5 Ways To Make Your Meetings More Productive

I texted my colleague: “do you think we both need to attend the 3pm meeting?” He quickly shot back: “Karin, I don’t think anyone needs to go to that meeting. Don’t worry, I’ll represent both of us.”

And there we were two executives, not speaking up in the spirit of being politically correct, and covering for one another to minimize the pain. After all, we had real work to do.

Sometimes, apparently, I’m also the instigator of such meetings. I attended a meeting the other day and every person in the room was on their iPad working except the speaker and I. I stopped the meeting and questioned what appeared to be very rude behavior.

As I soon uncovered, the rest of the participants had held a dry run of the meeting the day before I arrived in town. Since I was the boss they wanted to practice. This entire meeting had turned into a read-out for me. Those meetings should have been consolidated, or the second meeting should have been cancelled: “Karin, we’ve got this.” Or at least become a one-on-one.

They did have this and didn’t need me. Pre-meetings are often a sign of wasted time. Invest in knowing how much your team is preparing to meet with you. Even if you think you’re low maintenance.

Despite my best efforts to change-up the meetings under my influence, I sometimes succumb, keep my mouth shut, and attend my fair share of time-wasters. That’s why when I received this note from a subscriber, I promised to write a blog response and schedule it up next.

I’ll offer my best thinking and hand it over to the LGL village for additional suggestions:

“I just read your recent post, 5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Teamwork, and was personally touched when you started talking about misuse of staff meetings. It seems all I do is have read-out staff meetings and my staff hates them. But, I like it because the team is together as a whole and they learn what each other is working on and it does stimulate great conversation. However, they still hate them and, honestly, I hate them too. I would love to hear your perspective on how to have high-energy staff meetings. What are my alternatives? What can I do to achieve my goal of getting my 12 member team together weekly but not be a boring mess?

Make Your Meetings More Productive

  1. Cancel The Meeting & Create White Space – Pick one afternoon a week or a month that no one can talk to each other. Or take a regularly scheduled meeting, and just cancel it. See what happens over time. See how work gets done. See Jason Fried’s TED Talk: Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work.
  2. Make Each Meeting Unique – Even if you hold a regular weekly meeting, have a clearly defined purpose for each meeting that you articulate in advance. For example, by the end of this meeting we will:
    • identify the most important pages for our website
    • review our declining customer service trends and brainstorm 3 key actions to take this month
    • identify the theme and breakouts for our next symposium

    If your answer is read-out on results and progress on action plans cancel the meeting, and find another way.

  3. Ins-and-outs – Decide who needs to be there for which part of the meeting and then design the agenda accordingly. My weekly staff meetings always have a narrowing effect. We started with the larger group and narrowed as the topics move along. I make it clear that this is not to exclude, but a time-saving exercise.
  4. Stand-up Or Walk Among Yourselves – I’ll admit, when results go down, I intervene more. I’m a big believer in the stand-up huddle. Almost like a time-out check in for the day (or week). I think a big problem with meetings as we see them as sit on your butt occasions. Some of the best meetings start with “got a sec?” Try to emulate that feeling as much as possible. As Nilofer Merchant shares in her TED Talk: Fresh Air Drives Fresh Thinking.
  5. Make them think – I love the idea of Idea Tickets from Michael Michalko: “In advance of a meeting, frame a problem or issue to address. Ask each person to bring, at least, one new idea or suggestion about the problem as their ticket of admission to the meeting. Have the people write their ideas on index cards and collect them at the door. No one gets in without a ticket. Start the meeting by reading everyone’s contribution.”

PS: Tune in on Monday and we’ll talk about the most challenging kind of meetings: skip level meetings.

3 Reasons Your Meeting is a Waste of Time

“Okay, we need everyone’s full attention so here are the meeting rules. No texting. No sidebars. Full participation.”

If you have to start your meeting with ultimatums, something is wrong. Sure you could scold the team into paying attention. Better yet, figure out why they don’t want to.

3 Reasons Your Meeting is a Waste of Time

Wrong Purpose

One of my favorite posts submitted for the Frontline Festival was Jesse Lynn Stoner’s “No More Boring Meetings” The worst meetings are a one-way dump of information. These are meetings of “convenience,” for the leader. The leader asks for “updates” from each team member.

If you do not have a clear purpose for having a meeting, don’t have it. “We always have staff calls on Tuesdays,” does not count as a purpose. Articulate the purpose of the gathering at the outset (or even on the agenda). “By the end of the hour we will have made 4 decisions.”

Wrong People

If you need the decision maker– get her. Nothing frustrates a team more than debating and issue, reaching consensus, and then finding that they were missing key information or that a key stakeholder was not invited. Consider who must be included up front for which portions. Don’t waste time by having people sit through irrelevant topics until their subject comes up. You will gain great respect by honoring other people’s time.

Wrong Process

Determine the appropriate process up front. Unstructured meetings squander time. Create dialogue around topics that matter. Everyone does not need to speak on every topic. But if someone is tuning out, tune in and figure out why. Watch nonverbals. Invite factions to share their side bars with the group. If the meeting gets swonky, take a time out and check in with a few opinion leaders during the break.

You want people leaving your meeting saying, “now that was a great meeting.” “we accomplished so much.”

Great meetings should save time, not waste time.

The Scary Secret to Great Meetings

The first time it happened, I was devastated.

After all the hard work on building relationships.

All that investment in the team.

All that transparency.

All that work to create a level-less organization.

Why had my direct report team started holding “secret” meetings without me?

Why was that necessary?

What was I doing wrong?

Was this an indication that I had become the proverbial “boss” an image I had tried so hard to avoid?

It’s About Us

I shared my concerns with a member of the team.

Karin, this is not about you. This is about us. We need this. Relax.

I still don’t know exactly what happened in those “secret” meetings. Perhaps they talked about the work. Perhaps they settled some of their own conflict. Perhaps they complained about me. I am not sure it matters.

What I do know is those meetings transformed our organization.

Each leader began stepping up in new ways. They helped one another solve problems. They worked on each other’s projects. They mentored one another’s employees. They brought well-vetted options and solutions to our staff meetings.

My questions became more strategic. So did their answers.

Results kept climbing.

When you strive to be a servant leader, it can be tough to feel your team doesn’t need “serving.” You want to roll up your sleeves and support them. Sometimes the best support you can offer is to step away and give them the space to create, argue, and perform.

Now I welcome and encourage secret meetings.

Could your team use a “secret meeting?”