When it comes to meeting matters, well it’s a pretty abysmal state of affairs in most organisations. Unproductive meetings have been estimated to cost the US economy around $37 billion each year with around 15% of an organisation’s collective time spent in meetings. People routinely multi-task and 22% of participates send an average of three or more emails every 30 minutes in meetings. No wonder senior executives rate more than half of the meetings they attend as ineffective.
I saw this in action recently in what was unequivocally one of the most profound displays of poor meeting etiquette I have ever seen.
This marathon meeting started over an hour late. The meeting location wasn’t even firmed up or communicated until after the meeting was scheduled to start. It got completely side tracked for the first 60 or so minutes with participants bouncing around topics that were completely out of scope. Attendants popped in and out as they pleased, regularly zipping off to another meeting part way through. Most had laptops and were openly doing other things while the meeting was going on. One attendant not only flagrantly spent most of their time in their phone, they would periodically tell other attendees to check their phone too because something urgent was there they had to check. As a result the conversation kept circling back over old ground and it was incredibly difficult to move things forward.
“All care and no accountability” is how one colleague described it post the event.
I’ve worked in many places where meeting culture is dismal. Places where meetings never start on time and in spite of your best efforts, people routinely rock up completely cold, entirely unprepared for the task at hand. Inevitably large chunks of the meeting time are wasted getting everyone on the same page, primed and ready to contribute when they should have arrived ready and rearing to go.
Other organisations I work with describe themselves as having “a meeting culture”. A day of back to back meetings is considered normal and the bizarre practice of nominating people to go to a meeting in your place is common along with double booking your time. A mentality of feeling like you’re missing out if you don’t go seems to underpin much of this behaviour along with a sense that if you receive a meeting request you’re automatically obliged to accept it.
What all of this points to is an abject lack of the critical things that make meetings effective.
The not so small matter of meetings is that they really do matter. When done well – by all involved – they are dynamic forums that drive real engagement and progress around the stuff that matters most.
Meetings create the human connection that underpins the collaboration required to effectively analyse, solve, generate, and decide.
They have the potential to be powerfully productive – driving engagement, cultural change, productivity, continuous improvement and innovation.
To make them really effective we need three key things
And these are precisely the things that are lacking in so many organisations and work cultures today.
The good news is that this can be easily addressed through asking three simple questions:
- Have you done adequate Preparation for the meeting?
- Are you prepared to be fully Present for the entire meeting?
- Do you have a real contribution to make for which you will hold yourself Accountable?
Consider the next meeting in your calendar. Unless the answer is yes to all three of these questions then I suggest you don’t go.
Then consider the next meeting invitation that pops up in your inbox. If the answer to these questions is unclear – take the time to check in and clarify with the meeting organiser.
- What preparation are they expecting from you? (this should be specific and very clear)
- What level of presence and engagement are they looking for from invitees? (the answer should be 100%).
- What contribution are you expected to make? (just being there doesn’t count).
If the meeting organiser can’t answer these questions, then I suggest you decline the meeting.
In a workshop I ran recently this was a genuine revelation to all in the room. Firstly, the idea of declining a meeting was jaw dropping for most. Secondly the idea of taking ownership and calling the meeting organiser to ask these simple questions seemed rather daring. And finally the empowerment that comes with being able to decline attending a useless, ineffective, poorly planned and run meeting, was like a lightning bolt for most in the room.
Now, consider the next meeting you are about to schedule.
Can you step back and do more than generate a calendar invite? Can you take the time to Be Prepared, Be Present and Be Accountable?
Be crystal clear on the intent and purpose of the meeting.
And no, let’s get this straight right now, information sharing or providing updates is not a good enough goal for a meeting.
Find a deeper reason to bring people together – one that uses their time productively, establishes real engagement, builds momentum and drives tangible outcomes.
- Are you looking to; engage people around a new idea or change, gather inputs, assess outcomes, generate solutions or make a decision?
- With that in mind, consider the structure that will facilitate this outcome. What agenda or series of discussion items will achieve your aim?
- Most importantly take the time to think through the interactions you are looking to facilitate. How will you engage people during the meeting? How do you expect them to engage with each other? What tools will support this engagement?
Be clear on the mindset and energy levels required from you and your attendees throughout the meeting.
There is research that shows a more critical, even negative mindset and grounded energy is better for assessing and analytical tasks while a more optimistic, open mindset and higher energy is great for idea generation, innovation and solution generation.
- What time of day will be conducive to the required mindset and energy?
- How will you shape and influence the energy in the room through your presence and facilitation?
The trend of sending emails while in meetings is on the rise. Yet we know from the research that multi-tasking simply doesn’t work – attention is split, things get missed and neither task gets done well.
- With this in mind, what will you do to ensure you are fully present during the meeting?
- What will you do to invite your attendees to be fully present during the meeting?
- Do you need to give them a few minutes to settle in?
- Should you establish some explicit expectations around phone use and call out multi tasking?
- Is it worth checking-in at the start to see what’s on people’s minds so you get a clear picture of what’s pre-occupying people and may detract from the meeting or derail it altogether?
One of the greatest misconceptions out there is that the only person responsible for the success of a meeting is the person who organises it.
It’s all care and no accountability right? Sure I’ll accept your meeting invite. Sure, I think I need to be across that area. But it’s your meeting in the end. I’ll attend. I won’t do any preparation. I’ll rock in late. I’ll check my phone and send emails while I’m there. I might throw out the odd question. Then I’ll leave and bounce off to the next meeting.
No. No. No. No. No.
The sooner we can get everyone in a mindset where we are all accountable for the success of a meeting the better.
You might organise, chair and facilitate the meeting. But I am accountable for my part in that meeting. I come prepared and ready to contribute. I am present and focussed and attend fully to my colleagues during the interaction. I make a meaningful and positive contribution to the interaction and am accountable for my role in generating and driving an outcome.
With this in mind, when organising a meeting consider:
- Who is equipped to help you analyse, solve, generate ideas, and make decisions? Focus on the movers and shakers who make things happen. Leave the rest.
- What is the specific contribution to you want them to make? Be clear on this and make sure they are too, and well before the meeting.
- What preparation do they need to do to be able to make a real and meaningful contribution? Make it clear that coming prepared and primed is a non negotiable and essential to whatever analysing, solving, generating or deciding you’re doing in the meeting. Be comfortable to call it out when people rock in cold and unprepared – even cancel or postpone the meeting if that makes your point.
- How will you hold people accountable to come prepared, be present and be accountable for making a meaningful contribution?
If you can’t answer these questions about your own meeting, then I suggest you cancel out of the calendar invite and go and do some more thinking before you schedule an hour of 5 or 10 people’s time.
Meeting matters can be awfully frustrating. But meetings really do matter. So why not make them engaging forums where everyone brings their best, connects with each other and is primed to make a meaningful contribution. The meeting might just be more productive too.
For more insights into how to make your meetings matter, contact us as M.A.D. Mindworks.
Katherine Mair, M.A.D. Creator
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