Make meetings more effective
Why should you attend so many meetings when
they are so boring and ineffective..?
Two weeks ago, I started to explain that using e-mail for a proper discussion, decision making or call to action, is most of the time not very effective and traditional meetings are in most cases more suitable to make progress. At the same time, I have also seen that meetings are often conducted ineffectively and I already shared two out of four common mistakes during meetings that can easily be recognized and quickly resolved.
The previous blog discussed the root-cause of failed meetings due to a lack of short-term focus or limited understanding of the expected outcome:
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…
This time I will explain how to get a meeting focussed on accountability and results:
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 and saw nothing.
We all agree that somebody else, outside the room, should do it
The biggest opportunity of a meeting is leveraging on input from all stakeholders. Otherwise why else should somebody be invited or attend anyway? At the same, getting input from many angles can become very confusing and time-consuming. Due to an overload of ideas and suggestions, participants get no response nor follow up. After listening to the contribution, the meeting just moves on for another ‘opinion’ and again no action is taken as the input is merely perceived as ‘for information’…
This can be very frustrating for the participants as it almost feels like nobody cares for their opinion. The chair of the meeting should therefore either explain why input may not be relevant or ask other participants to respond. Just creating a big pile of opinions will never result in any action. The only exception could be if all opinions are more or less pointing in the same direction and participants seem to agree on the direction. This happens in general in cases where the solution and action are outside the meeting. In other words, we all agree that somebody else -who is not attending the meeting- should do something…
If this seems to be a common opinion then the chair has to intervene and explain that the only thing that can be changed and actioned during the meeting, is the change and action that can be agreed with somebody present in the room (or call). Even if action is expected from somebody outside the room, there is still need for an initiative taken from a meeting participant. If we all agree that somebody else should do something, the question remains who is going to initiate that action and give feedback on the outcome in the next meeting?
Could you have a look will always frustrate all stakeholders
By now you should be able to overcome most pitfalls as described in the previous blog and above. You have learned to make sure that there is a focus on what matters most today; you are able to make it clear what issue to address without hiding behind high-level words and generic statements, and it has become clear that action should always be taken by somebody in the room. So what could still go wrong?
The last pitfall has to do with the wording of the assignment to action the outcome/ conclusion of the meeting. A lot of time has been spent on collecting input, having discussions and after all seem to agree that something has to be done, the chairman comes to a conclusion. One of the participants of the meeting is assigned as action-owner whereas the required action is: ‘…could you have a look at it?’ It is highly likely that the next meeting, the action owner comes back after ‘having a look’ but for example, the financial analysis is missing. The week thereafter feedback is given on the financial side but now the technical component is missing…
‘Could you have a look at it’ or similar vague assignments, will never bring results. The chairman should never assume that action owners know what to do. What document is expected, what kind of recommendation or resolution is expected and based and on what kind of analysis. The consequence of vague assignments is delayed decision making which is frustrating for all participants. Being more clear upfront on what is expected and how the outcome of the assignment will be used will create speed and momentum and engaged participants.
Changing patterns is hard but crucial
Recurring meetings are rapidly showing this kind of patterns of behaviour and breaking such patterns will be hard. If you allow participants to be 5 minutes late for two consecutive meetings, the rule already becomes that you can be 5 minutes late and some people will thereafter try to find out what happens after being 10 minutes late. If you ask participants during the meeting to ‘take us through your document’, the message is that nobody has to read and prepare up front. After two meetings, this message has been understood by all participants and nobody has a clue what will be discussed so questions that are being raised during the meeting are mostly shooting from the hip or questions that have been clarified in the circulated document that was not read by anybody.
It is important to be clear about the rules of the meeting and stick to some principals. Participants will get bored if there is no pace and no focus whereas decision making gets blurred and delayed and therefore frustrate the people that worked hard to prepare a good proposal. By recognizing and solving the most common root-causes of meetings, the meeting will create energy, teamwork, and accountability. This type of meeting will have a good attendance as participants recognize the added value as the outcome is worth the time spend.
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