No more boring meetings (please!)

“I wish there were more meetings in my day” – said No One.. ever!

I am not surprised when I hear that half of all meetings are considered unproductive, I am however astonished to see that despite the statistics and overall consensus there is very little done to change this.

We know that most meetings lack engagement, the very essence for why they exist in the first place (in person or remotely). If you can’t engage people with your meetings, you might as well send an email and call it a day. But yet, most people push through hosting boring endless unproductive meetings that everyone dreads joining. Why? Because people stick to an outdated version of what a meeting process should be – one that was introduced over 50 years ago (yes, let that sink in for a bit!) without taking into account that we now live a completely different reality and the process just doesn’t work anymore.

Here is how it usually goes: someone sets the meeting (most likely a senior member of the team), this is (if lucky) followed by an agenda (that lacks input by most people joining the meeting). During the meeting a poor soul (usually a junior member) scribes minutes that are (hopefully) shared (and probably ignored), to be revised in the next meeting as ‘outstanding items’ (that most people forgot to action). Majority of attendees listen on (or dream on) without ever getting a chance to say a single word.

This begs one question: why oh why must it be this way? I mustn’t and it shouldn’t. A meeting is the best opportunity to generate real time collaboration between teams. It should be both a valuable and enjoyable experience for all, filled with energy and buzz!! Here are the quickest and easiest 3 ways to achieve this:

  1. Get everyone involved – rotate roles (chair, minute takers, agenda item collectors, timekeeping) everyone should experience the joy of being (not just taking) part. Once you have chaired a meeting you gain a whole new perspective as to what it takes to participate well in one and vice versa. See it as a real-time development opportunity for all levels, don’t wait until people are super senior to throw them in the deep end and expect them to be great meeting chairs if they have never had an opportunity to do it before.. early exposure is really best.
  2. Address the most important items first – forget starting with previous outstanding actions or recapping last minutes’ agenda… This only encourages lack of action on last minute items as it gives a second opportunity to revisit them. To generate ownership and action, focus on the meeting at hand – what is it really for? What is (are) the most pressing matter(s)? Use the start, which is when there is the most energy from everyone to tackle the items that require the best and clearest mindsets. Once the real stuff has been addressed, if there is time, look at what is outstanding. Make sure everyone has a chance to contribute, if one person is speaking for longer than 10 minutes without interruption, it is time to take a deep breath and take stock. It is a meeting not a broadcast after all.
  3. Revisit duration and frequency – there is a tendency to stick to certain time and date formats when it comes to organizing re-occurring meetings, this is partly because of the way calendar tools are set up. But this does not mean we should stick to it. Meetings don’t have to take place in 30 minutes or 1 hours slots, they also don’t have to re-occur at the same time of the day each week. There are two reasons to scrap these unspoken rules and they both are backed by the science of productivity. Firstly, if you allocate one hour, you will spend one hour, however if you were to allocate 45 minutes, you would achieve the same in less time (Parkinsons’ Law). Secondly, we release energy in different periods during the day (check out Dan Pink’s When), if you can alternate your meeting times each week, you can gain greater engagements by enabling all individuals to work with their own chronobiology.

There are many other areas that can be improved, but start small, and then grow from there. New habits take time to set and it is best to introduce a small change that has a big impact than to try too many things, fail to keep up and lose momentum. If like me, you believe is time we start enjoying meetings then join the revolution and use these simple steps to help make that happen. Good luck!

Leticia Corbisier de Meaultsart

Aretai LLP

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