If your team members (or you) hear “Meeting at 3:00” and think, Here comes another waste of my time, then it’s time for a meetings overhaul at your organization.
It’s Friday afternoon, and your team is filing into the conference room, mumbling and grumbling as they take their seats for yet another meeting. An hour passes and the meeting comes to a much-anticipated end, leaving everyone involved wondering why the meeting was held in the first place. After all, the usual suspects dominated the discussion, and the same ideas that came up in last week’s meeting were once again batted around. No one seemed to write anything down, and no one agreed to put anything discussed into action.
“In these tough economic times, every second of the work day is valuable,” says Kimberly Douglas, author of The Firefly Effect: Build Teams That Capture Creativity and Catapult Results (Wiley, 2009, ISBN: 978-0-470-43832-9). If it’s time for a meetings overhaul at your organization, read on for Douglas’s ten common meeting pitfalls and how you can fix them.
Pitfall #1: What’s the point?
A common problem with many meetings is that they’re scheduled with seemingly no clear objective in mind.Douglas suggests that you run through a pre-meeting checklist before putting it on everyone’s schedule.
· Is a meeting even necessary?
· Could the information you want to provide be just as easily presented in an email?
· What do you want to accomplish with the meeting?
· Will reaching that accomplishment really require a group decision?
If you ask yourself these questions and decide that you do need to have the meeting, next consider who should attend.
Pitfall #2: Where’s the agenda?
A quality meeting agenda includes:
· The date, time, and location of the meeting
· The meeting’s objectives
· Three to six agenda items, accompanied by how long they’ll take to discuss and who the discussion leaders will be
· A clear explanation of the prep work that should be completed before the meeting
Send the agenda out as far in advance of the meeting as possible, and then re-distribute an agenda/meeting reminder 48 hours prior to the meeting.
Pitfall #3: Conference room overcrowding
Make sure everyone who is attending the meeting knows exactly why they were invited. If need be, communicate directly to them why you want them there. Those in attendance need to know if you want them to be an expert, an influencer, or a decider.
Pitfall #4: The meeting is going on forever
Create a reputation for yourself as being a meeting leader who starts and ends on time, every time. Remember that the ideal maximum meeting length is 60 minutes. Allot specific amounts of time for each agenda item. You might want to encourage your discussion leaders to go around and get a headline from each person in the meeting to start each discussion topic. That gives everyone a chance to participate, without allowing one person to take up all of the discussion time.
Pitfall #5: The meeting becomes a free-for-all.
The best way to avoid losing control of the conversation and the meeting as a whole is to set some conversational ground rules right away. Select four to six rules based on the unique needs of those attending and your specific meeting objectives. A few possibilities include, “Everyone participates,” “Speak in headlines,” and “Police yourself—Am I participating too much or not enough?” etc. Keep the rules front and center, maybe write them on a flip chart or on the agenda.
Pitfall #6: Big talkers eat up all the time.
First, don’t let big talkers sit at the front of the room or the back center of a U-shape. This definitely gives them a feeling of being on stage. In fact, you may even want to use assigned seating for the meeting. Other strategies include doing a round robin during which you ask team members to weigh in. Breaking attendees up into small groups can also be effective.
Pitfall #7: Conflict kills productivity.
When a conflict arises, defuse the disagreement with collaboration. Openly discuss solutions and compromises that everyone can get behind. And remember, conflict is a group issue. Don’t single anyone out when a conflict arises. Handle it as a group. Create and reinforce a common set of group conflict norms.
Pitfall #8: No one knows who’s making the decisions.
So your meeting is nearly over, you’ve discussed everything on the agenda, and you’re ready to send everyone on their ways. Unfortunately, no one is quite clear about what they’re supposed to be doing or who is going to make that decision.
Whatever decision-making method you choose, make sure everyone understands who will be making the final decision from the get-go. If you just want your team’s input and will be making the final decision on your own, let them know that ahead of time. Most teams don’t care as much that they get to make a final decision; they just care that they didn’t know from the beginning that they weren’t going to be making the final decision.
Pitfall #9: No decisions, commitments, or next steps are captured.
There is no simpler way to record what went on than by writing on a flip chart the WHO, WHAT, and BY WHEN of the directives discussed in the meeting. Do a round robin with everyone recapping what they are accountable for delivering. Once decisions have been made and everyone knows how they will be communicated, set the date, time, and location for next meeting, making it clear that all will be responsible for reporting on the results of this meeting’s action items at the next meeting. And always distribute a brief meeting summary within 24 hours of the meeting. The meeting summary will reinforce to everyone that results are expected.
Pitfall #10: No meeting evaluations are performed.
For many organizations, meetings have simply become something that employees feel like they have to get through. A great way to ensure that this isn’t the mindset of those in your organization’s meetings is to do proper meeting evaluations.
A great strategy is to do a process check at least once during a meeting. Have everyone assess the four Ps:
· Progress. Are we achieving our goals?
· Pace. Are we moving too fast or too slowly?
· Process. Are we using the right tools/methods?
· Pulse. How is everyone feeling—frustrated, satisfied, energized?
About the Author:
Kimberly Douglas, SPHR, is president of FireFly Facilitation, Inc., www.FireFlyFacilitation.com a firm specializing in the design and facilitation of high-impact initiatives, including leadership team effectiveness and strategic planning. She has facilitated results for over 25 years in a broad cross-section of industries and organizations, including Coca-Cola, AT&T, Home Depot, UPS, and the U.S. Marine Corps. Kimberly holds a master of science in industrial/organizational psychology. Prior to founding FireFly ten years ago, Kimberly was an organization effectiveness manager for Coca-Cola, a director with the Hay Group, and served in HR leadership roles in the healthcare, telecommunications, and hospitality industries. Her book, The Firefly Effect, was published by Wiley in April 2009.