Hoboken, NJ — October 2, 2009 — 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.
If this kind of ineffective meeting sounds familiar, you're not alone, says Kimberly Douglas. It's a problem that plagues many organizations — but it's also one, she adds, that can be remedied.
"In these tough economic times, every second of the work day is valuable," says Douglas, author of The Firefly Effect: Build Teams That Capture Creativity and Catapult Results (Wiley, 2009, $24.95). "None of it should be wasted in meetings that seem to go nowhere or that are plagued by conflict or lack of participation. I have sat through countless meetings myself — some great, and some not-so-great. But those that weren't so great could have been so much better with just a little more effort."
Douglas adds, "If leaders know how to conduct better meetings, those meetings can actually become time well-spent — time that increases employee productivity, participation and innovation."
The question of productivity is a huge issue when it comes to meetings. According to a Microsoft survey of over 38,000 employees, almost 70 percent felt that the average 5.6 hours they spend each week in meetings are unproductive. Another survey conducted by OfficeTeam had 28 percent of its 150 senior executives responding that meetings are a waste of time. Furthermore, 45 percent of respondents said they believed their employees could be more productive if meetings were banned at least one day a week.
"In too many companies, meetings have become a way for leaders and their employees to simply go through the motions," says Douglas. "If a new initiative is being implemented or new product ideas are needed, the feeling from management is often, 'Well, let's have a meeting. At least it will seem like we are doing something.' Unfortunately, not enough thought goes into how to conduct those meetings."
Having a meeting, in and of itself, is not a bad idea, Douglas says. In fact, meetings can be the most engaging and thought-provoking times of the day for leaders and team members alike. "The key," Douglas advises, "is avoiding those pitfalls that sink a meeting's productivity."
If it's time for a meetings overhaul at your organization, read on for Douglas's 10 common meeting pitfalls and how you can fix them:
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.
First, ask yourself whether the meeting is even necessary. Could the information you want to provide be just as easily presented in an e-mail? 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. Design an agenda for the meeting. And clearly communicate any prep work that needs to be done by the participants beforehand.
"Being clear about the meeting's objectives will ensure a greater likelihood of it being effective than anything else you can do," says Douglas. "Simply answering, 'So why are we meeting?' before everyone is gathered in the conference room will help you ensure meetings are productive for everyone and will also help you avoid lost opportunity cost and draining employee motivation."
Where's the agenda? Remember the last time you actually received an agenda in advance of a meeting? Likely, you immediately had a higher perception of whether that meeting was going to be a waste of time or not. Once you know who will be attending the meeting, you need to finalize 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.
Conference room overcrowding.
The meeting will seemingly go on forever.
The meeting becomes a free-for-all.
Read Part II of "Finding a New Way to Meet: Ten Pitfalls of Pitiful Meetings ... and How to Fix Them" here.