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Monthly Business e-Tips Vol 3
Issue 5

Effective Meetings - An Oxymoron

The average worker spends 5.6 hours a week in meetings and, according to two-thirds of those surveyed in 2005 by Microsoft, the meetings were a total waste of time. This statistic does not surprise you, I bet.

Everyone has been to dull and unproductive meetings. We all have so much to do during the day we groan and roll our eyes with dread at the announcement of yet another meeting. Our minds rush to all the things we could accomplish during that time, real or imagined. At the meeting we often tune out, add to our to-do lists or do a Rorschach interpretation of the stain on Bill’s tie.

So why do meetings have such a bad rap? Meetings are often unnecessary. A quick conference call can be used to get input or disseminate information. Other meetings are too large. Spend less time in big groups talking about what needs to be done. Instead, use small teams to actually do the work. The larger group can get progress reports and have opportunities for input.

When run well, meetings can be a valuable use of resources and time. They can be used to plan, brainstorm and make decisions. They can update workers to ensure that everyone is on the same page. The group process provides opportunities to bounce ideas and solutions off one another.

It is pretty clear why meetings are ineffective. How can we make them valuable?

  • Keep meetings short and focused. Have a clear agenda with a manageable amount of items. Assign time limits for each item. Ask attendees to prepare for discussions or updates. Make sure only necessary people attend.
  • Provide meeting ground rules. Start and end on time. Respect attendees time and they are more likely to be prompt. Also, be clear on unacceptable behavior at meetings so interruptions can be managed.
  • Get everyone to participate. A good facilitator will get quiet people to speak up and the overly-vocal ones to keep quiet. Leaders show respect by listening and considering all input, whether or not the idea is utilized.
  • Stay on target. When important issues not on the agenda come up, create a list where the topics are “parked”. Make sure these additional items are addressed at the next meeting or by a task force. Quickly refocus those who go off on tangents.
  • Identify action items or next steps. Be clear on who is accountable for what actions. Also, set a timetable for when the group can expect the finished product or an update. Distribute meeting notes so that everyone knows what action they own.
  • Make meetings fun. Use humor to liven up the meetings. Dull meetings often produce lackluster results. Use exercises, visual aids and props to maintain everyone’s interest. Keep the group not only awake but alert and involved.

Don’t be the butt of office jokes and Dilbert-like cartoons by holding ineffective meetings. Remember, time is money. If your employees are at too many meetings, they are not working at their core responsibilities.

This newsletter is adjourned.

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