Make meetings more effective
Why should you attend so many meetings
when they are so boring and ineffective..?
I like meetings and I organize lots of them but nowadays people seem to prefer seeking feedback and decision making by e-mail, rather than having a meeting. Seeking guidance and commitment by sending an e-mail to a number of people is, however, also often not very effective. Some recipients respond by starting an e-mail debate creating a huge trail of questions and answers. `Some recipients don’t want to respond because they assume that by not-responding, somebody else will take ownership and they can even pretend not to be aware. My experience is that in order to create a proper discussion, good progress and clear accountability, a real old-fashioned (or Skype) meeting is often still required.
The challenge is how to conduct an effective meeting that immediately adds value for the time spent or in other words organize such interaction among the participants that the outcome of the meeting is worth the effort. In this blog, I have identified four common mistakes that can make meetings rather ineffective. They are described in such a way that you can easily recognize their occurrence. Thereafter I will explain how to respond when you hear certain statements and start making meetings more fun and effective. This blog is split into two parts so you will get the first two root-causes of ineffective meetings in this part and the second part with two more root-causes will follow in two weeks.
a) What is the time horizon of the meeting; one day or tomorrow?
b) If you don’t know what you are looking for, you will never find it…
c) Anybody could do it but nobody did it as the action is outside the room.
d) Could you please have a look at it, and then he looked at it and saw nothing.
Past-change is impossible, future-change is hard but you can start tomorrow
Many meetings are ineffective because they have no focus on the short term, therefore they are not action/ result oriented and the outcome is that there will be no action or result (…rocket-science…). For a proper discussion, it is important, to understand what the long-term (strategic) direction is and what has been learned from the past but only to the extent that this is relevant for decision making during that same meeting. (‘..your contribution is valid but please specify what part is relevant for decision making today…?’)
Also spending a lot of time discussing what somebody ‘should have done’ or ‘could have done’ will not change anything. Activities that probably only start in months to come and that are not even certain should be quickly parked (prio 3; don’t drop it but not now). The focus (time spent) should be on what actions/ commitment can be agreed upon for the next two weeks (as prio 1). If some actions still have a dependency/uncertainty than these can be parked (as prio 2) where the action-owner is supposed to come up with commitment in two weeks after sorting out the dependency/ uncertainty issue.
It is good to know the big picture but even big pictures were painted with small steps so agreeing on weekly small steps, is likely to create faster results. If you’re not going fast enough, you may have to slow down!
Are you aware that change (almost always) requires action
Another root-cause that makes meeting very ineffective is when participants believe that they suspect that the problem is embedded in the organizational culture. For example ‘There is lack of trust….’, ‘We are not communicating enough….’, ‘There is insufficient focus……’ are comments where a lot of people may agree but still nothing happens. Even if only a minority agrees, these topics still seem to be so crucial that nobody dares to really ignore them.
Although these topics can be discussed for hours and hours, the solution on how to address the challenges raised is extremely simple. Assuming that we cannot change the past, the only question that needs to be asked in response to what action would be appreciated: ‘… What do you believe you can do -starting tomorrow- to improve trust, communicate better, focus more, etc….?’. Or: ‘…What do you suggest I can do….?’. No need to blame the past that it was not good or not effective as the past cannot be changed so you just have to find out what are small steps for improvement to restore trust, communication or focus.
Please be aware that moving to fast and suggesting small steps for improvement, makes some people believe that you do not respect the cultural challenges people had or the complexity of the problem. People should get some room to speak out without blaming (that triggers defensive responses) which is constructive (positive, forward-looking) feedback aiming for small steps of improvement.
Chairing meetings is a balancing act between collecting input and creating empowerment by letting participants speak-up, but at the same time discussions should be kept short and there should be a push for actions and decisions. A chair probably has to repeat the same sentence again and again after every long monologue of one of the participants; …so what are we going to do now?…..so what are WE going to do now?…………so what are we going to DO NOW?? ..and the meeting can move on to the next topic….
Part 2 will follow in two weeks
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