Managing Meeting Madness

I’m going old school this week to rant about something I actually haven’t faced in awhile but that is beginning to crop up again and drives me nuts. Meetings. Meetings about meetings. Being in meetings and having someone suggest, maybe we should schedule a meeting to discuss this. Really? We’re already IN a meeting! We’ve been in it for an hour and half! How could we possibly need more meetings?

(Insert various expletives and, as my mother would say, using the Lord’s name in vain) Meetings are the bane of productivity. Ok, correction, SOME meetings are the bane of productivity. Meetings can, and should, be great opportunities for idea creation and collaboration. But for the most part, meetings easily become a colossal waste of time.

What’s interesting to me is that having worked in the consulting world for the last two years, I haven’t had to suffer the unending meetings in awhile. There are plenty of things that drive me crazy about consulting vs. in-house work, but one thing we get right is the limit on meetings. Because we bill hourly and our clients are very conscious of how they use our time, we’re rarely subjected to the needless number of meetings. There are exceptions, and things can get out of hand, but when reminded how much those three phone calls a week are costing, most clients lock it down.

But they continue to have meetings without us AND they continue to waste time! The last two weeks I’ve had a first hand look at the inside story, the sheer number of meetings that can accumulate, and more than that, WHY they happen and what can be done to stop this nonsense! So I’ll share a few thoughts on managing meeting madness.

The biggest culprit is the planning meeting. It can also be known by other names, like “brainstorming session.” I can’t stress this enough, seriously. Do NOT, unless absolutely necessary, schedule a “planning meeting” and expect to get anything done without some preliminary work. I’ve sat in so many meetings where everyone came to the meeting to hatch a plan, but no one came WITH a plan. Not even the beginnings of a plan. A meeting should never be a way to start something from scratch. Instead, have key players draft a plan or make a list of priorities. Or assign one person to put together an outline of the plan, then use the meeting to expand on or provide more detail for the plan.

Another good one is the weekly meeting. These get to be routine so people don’t feel the need to prepare. Bad plan! Weekly meetings need structure, or you’ll end up sitting around for hours discussing the sun and the moon. Put together a bulleted list of topics to discuss each week. The list should NOT be a comprehensive look at everything that needs to get done in the next month. You won’t get to everything on the list during the meeting, so why bother? Pick five core items that are pressing. And stay on topic. Encourage the team to weigh in on meeting topics ahead of time. Send the agenda the day before and request that everyone review topics for discussion, add any others they want to address, and come PREPARED. If your colleagues show up at the meeting with other items, encourage them to add it to next week’s agenda. The five bullet points should, as much as possible, be the limit to what you discuss that week.

My third and final piece of advice (for now!) is to not involve the group in a discussion on something that one person or two can handle. Meetings easily digress into needless debates and banter about a task that at the end of the day one person is going to go away, research, complete, and then present to the group. Let your individual team members do their jobs. You’ll save time and the task will be much more efficient without the opinions of team members who are not involved in actual implementation.

Ok… one more, I can’t help myself. Assign someone to run the meeting. And I don’t mean the highest ranking person in the room, though that person could do it. Pick the person who will be most likely to move things along and not be afraid to jump in and say great, take that conversation offline after the meeting, let’s get to the next topic. With someone in charge of getting things going, the meeting is more likely to be efficient and SHORTER!

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