Are you interested in increasing your own productivity or that of your work team? Here is one very easy and simple solution. Stop meetings! Seriously! Reduce your meetings by 75%, never attend more than 1 meeting per day and never invite to a meeting anyone who does not have the responsibility for the decisions that are made!
Now just think about it for a minute. People survive without your being at a meeting all the days you are on vacation. What makes you think your attendance is essential? And recollect the last 10, any ten, meetings you attended. Was anything more substantive than a decision to continue to meet, made? What was decided that couldn’t have been decided by one person.
I probably should tell you now that I have a bias: I hate meetings. Dave Barry, the American humorist, nailed it when he wrote: “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’”
Do any of the following scenarios seem familiar? Staff meeting # 1. No agenda. The agenda is created on the spot with suggestions from everyone attending. I had a boss one time who actually ran her meetings like this. She thought she was being inclusive and collaborative. I thought she was just too lazy to think about what she wanted to accomplish.
Staff meeting # 2. Everyone in the group goes around and tells everyone else what they have been working on the last week. Who cares? If I need to know what you are doing I am either your boss (in which case I should know the status of your work) or else I am involved in the work and probably know what is going on. This is usually just the business version of the Christmas family newsletter.
Staff meeting # 3. Team members are confused about who said they would do what from the previous meeting and why nothing got done. No meeting summary is ever sent out identifying the decisions that were taken and where the responsibilities have been allotted. Of, if they have been sent out, no one reads them. Of course, since the seeming purpose of the meeting was just to meet, then there wasn’t any reason to make decisions that had to be carried out.
Staff meeting # 4. Birthdays are celebrated, cupcakes are provided, and half an hour is spent chatting and socializing. While this might indeed be a laudable activity, it is reminds me of the lunch that is served to mourners after a funeral. Of course, if you just want to kill time rather than actually accomplish anything, then a meeting is indispensable. If you have a high need to be social, and many people do, then plan for the occasional social times, but don’t call it a meeting and don’t combine it with business.
Staff meeting # 5. Contentious issues are presented. Everyone nods in agreement. The real meetings occur in the hall after everyone leaves the conference room. When you throw raw (and dead) chickens into an alligator pond at a Florida game farm, the little alligators have learned to be very cautious of getting in the way of the big alligators who will eat the little alligator and the chicken.
Staff meeting # 6. Team members straggle in anywhere from 1 to 15 minutes late and are then updated on anything they missed. Why reinforce bad behaviour and punish those who make the effort to show up on time? Have you ever noticed that people who are routinely late for meetings almost never miss an airplane? What does that suggest?
Staff meeting # 7. Everyone gets a vote on every decision even when they have no responsibility or accountability for the outcome. While voting sounds terribly democratic it is often a lazy way to avoid thinking of a truly creative solution or avoid conflict, and instead subject everyone to the tyranny of the group.
Whenever you are tempted to call a meeting (especially a staff meeting which, if held every week, is generally a waste of time) remember the observation of Ashleigh Brilliant: “Our meetings are held to discuss many problems which would never arise if we held fewer meetings”
So, how can you make them productive – or at least, not a monumental waste of time?
- Have an agenda, and someone who is responsible for each item on the agenda. Send this out 3 days in advance so people can be prepared. Only invite people to attend who have something to contribute.
- Be clear as to the purpose of each item – do you need to make a decision, pass on information so that everyone hears the same message, gather information required to make a decision, or get volunteers to work on something (United Way campaign, Staff Christmas party, golf tournament etc.)
- Arrange items so that you go from the most general (things that everyone needs to be involved with) and then allow people to leave when items that concern them are completed. Why should people have to sit through items which do not involve them nor which they know much about? Don’t they have work to do?
- Work expands to fill the amount of time allotted to it, so start and end on time.
- Before you conclude the meeting, summarize what decisions have been made and who bears the responsibility for carrying them out.
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