Making the Most of Meetings
by Julie Winkle Giulioni
Love them or hate them, meetings are a permanent feature of business.
Getting things done in organizations frequently requires bringing together multiple minds, perspectives and experience sets. Complex problems cannot be solved nor innovative opportunities leveraged via emails, knowledge management systems, reports or texting. This type of work demands the melding of minds and ideas -- something that meetings are uniquely designed to enable.
The problem is that in recent years, other "real work" has increasingly been eclipsed as meetings have grown in number and length. And too much of even a good thing has become too much. According to the Association for Talent Development:
- Nearly 60% of working professionals polled spend one to two hours in meetings each day.
- 75% of mid-management employees and above spend three to four hours in meeting each day.
Given the commitment individuals and organizations are making to meetings -- and given the reality that meetings aren’t going anywhere anytime soon -- it’s incumbent upon leaders to ensure that they squeeze as much value as possible out of the time invested. Consider the following 3 Ps before calling your next meeting and make it more powerful and productive.
Meetings are frequently a knee-jerk reaction to any number of workplace events, not all of which require the commitment of time and energy of a meeting. So, before issuing your next meeting invitation, ask yourself these questions:
- What do I hope to accomplish as a result of this meeting?
- Can reaching this goal be achieved in any other way?
- Does this topic require a variety of perspectives and points of view?
- Do I already know the answer or have a plan that I’m just trying to get others to support?
Clarifying -- in just one sentence -- what you hope the meeting will achieve is a great starting point for determining whether a meeting is necessary. If the purpose is to explore, solve, generate, decide or plan, you are on the right track to bring people together (virtually or otherwise) to make it happen. But, if you are simply looking to share information, there are countless other, more efficient ways to make this happen. Google Docs, emails, reports and updates are great asynchronous alternatives for disseminating information.
And, for the productivity of your team and your own personal credibility, if you’ve already made a decision or crafted a plan, be transparent and simply share it. Too frequently, the purpose of a meeting is to build buy-in by making others feel like they were involved in something to which they have no input. It’s insulting, inauthentic, inefficient and otherwise intolerable to those whom you lead.
Clarity of purpose in the leader’s mind is the first step toward clarity of purpose for meeting participants. Meeting time can be compressed and better used when everyone in attendance is ready to engage constructively. This means sharing information, not just about the purpose and logistics, but also about the thinking, review of information, and data gathering required to enrich the exchange. The time participants invest in preparation can pay significant benefits in terms of the quality of your meetings and the time they consume.
The location you select and how you arrange the space has a significant influence on meeting dynamics. Settling into the same chairs around the same conference table week after week may not spark the breakthroughs, innovation and creativity you’re looking for. So, mix it up. Try shorter stand-up meetings. This format telegraphs a quicker cadence. It also solves an evolving organizational problem. According to the same source referenced earlier, “Booking meetings is one of the most common causes of workplace conflict.”
Leaders who attend to these 3 P’s -- purpose, preparation and physical space -- will enjoy yet another P: participation. When meetings are well-conceived and planful, participants are able to engage more constructively, share more freely, and contribute more powerfully. And, when this happens, the couple of hours each day spent in meetings suddenly becomes the most valuable part of everyone’s day.
Published February 9, 2017 in SmartBrief. Julie Winkle Giulioni is the author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” with Bev Kaye.