Meetings: How to Stop the Nonsense

LinkedIn – Do you spend your life in meetings? If you do, chances are that many of them— or even most — are boring, off-point and too long. In other words, they get in the way of real work.

But don’t just take my word for it — many a wise man has weighed in on bad meetings:

“Meetings are indispensible when you don’t want to do anything.” –John Kenneth Galbraith

“People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.” –Thomas Sowell

“Meetings move at the speed of the slowest mind in the room.” –Dale Dauten

“The world is run by those willing to sit until the end of meetings.” –Hugh Park

The good news is that you can usually avoid a bogus meeting by answering a few simple questions before you ever send out an invitation. The payoff will be bigger than you expect – improving your meeting culture can transform the work life of everyone on your team, including you.

1. To meet or not to meet? No matter the business you’re in, your team’s time is valuable, so you should have a clear sense of what you expect to accomplish by calling people together. If you can’t figure that out, don’t hold the meeting.

But if there is a good reason for the meeting, force yourself to begin by writing a one-sentence statement on what the group needs to do for the session to be successful. Avoid mushy verbs like “consider,” “assess,” “inform” or “evaluate.” Instead, opt for words like “decide,” “plan” or “choose” — language that conveys action and follow-up assignments.

At the end of the meeting, take a minute to summarize what you’ve accomplished in terms of actions and decisions. This will force everyone to think about whether the meeting’s original objective has been met and it will give participants a sense of closure.

At JetBlue, our version of this came from board member General Stanley A. McChrystal, who asked that we hold a 15-minute executive session prior to each board meeting. It’s a chance for each director to share what he or she wants to get out of the board meeting, so we can be sure to cover that topic or move it to a follow-up. It keeps the meeting focused and intentional.

2. Keep it lean. Working meetings shouldn’t have “audience members” who aren’t participating. Large working meetings are rarely productive, so invite the smallest group that is necessary to achieve the goal of the meeting. Then make sure everyone participates – even if you have to “cold call” them to elicit an opinion. The energy and productivity of meetings generally expand with broad and active participation.

3. Run a tight ship. Make sure everyone knows the rules, including protocols for confidentiality and conflict resolution. Keep the number of agenda items you pass out to a minimum, and see to it that they’re formatted consistently and distributed in the same way at the same time. Get participants to speak in headlines so they don’t bury the lead or meander when they talk. And keep to the schedule. Everyone appreciates a leader who drives the discussion forward.

4. Early is better. Hold meetings early enough in the day that people can do immediate follow-ups if necessary. End-of-day meetings or those held just before a holiday are rarely as productive as those that are convened early in the week and in the morning.

Finally, keep in mind Herbert Hoover’s test for a good meeting: “When the outcome of a meeting is to have another meeting, it’s been a lousy meeting.”

By Joel Peterson