A fundamental mindset shift needs to be from meetings as a waste of time or an unnecessary workplace ritual to meetings as a place where work gets done!…And remember, your meeting culture is a core part of your organizational culture, so it’s worth your attention.

January has sped by and we are now well into 2020. Resolutions and intentions may already be shelved in the swirl of return to routine. And in that back to routine, you are likely back to the meetings. Meeting, after meeting, after meeting, after meeting.

I have been struck lately by how many conversations with family and friends have turned to the inefficiency of meetings. Over the holidays, I heard relief to have a break from them. Now that normalcy has set back in, I hear groans from the impact of them. It also seems that I am spending a lot of my coaching time helping leaders to think through and frame their meetings, determine whether a meeting is what they need at all or coaching them through some impact they are still carrying from a dysfunctional meeting interaction.

Language is always telling of what the culture of a space or place where people gather is and when it comes to meetings, these are some of the common phrases I hear:

  • That meeting series is the biggest waste of my time!
  • This boss/co-worker keeps calling unnecessary meetings!
  • I hate those meetings.
  • I sit in meetings all day and get no work done.
  • I leave meetings with a task list, then head into other meetings all day. So when am I supposed to complete my accumulating to-dos?
  • Meetings are a game show — everyone just says things to impress the boss.
  • We all sit in the meeting checking our email and doing other things.
  • I feel trapped, because if I don’t attend it looks like I am not a team player.

While I certainly have had my share of similar reactions to meeting experiences and share in some of these frustrations, I have also found myself feeling a new level of responsibility for honouring people’s time as someone who regularly designs and leads/facilitates meetings in organizations, community groups and on Boards. It has also become clear to me that there is a difference between the periodic strategy, visioning, development and change planning meetings that can be experienced as time-out from the day-to-day and the experience of regular operational meetings. However, the principles for making both types of meetings engaging and productive are the same.

There is an easy case for change of meeting culture. Just pause and think about the personal toll poorly designed and thought out meetings may have had on you and therefore on the collective. Add in the actual cost (average salary per hour around the table) and the opportunity cost of time —a most valuable and irreplaceable resource and it’s clear we must do better. In the next few posts I will share some of the principles and methodologies I use and that leaders I coach have found useful. My exploration question is: What can be done to improve everyday meeting culture?

For starters, here are some core meeting planning questions to consider:

  1. What is your purpose?
    • a. Would a meeting help you accomplish that task?
  2. What are your desired meeting outcomes?
  3. Who needs to be at the meeting?
  4. How long do you really need to effectively accomplish the desired outcomes?

Your purpose is fundamental to effective everyday meetings. In my view, you should only have a meeting where there is a shared purpose that cannot be accomplished alone that requires:

  • Discussing—when a group needs alignment of purpose or principles to guide their future direction-setting or decision-making.
  • Doing—When a group needs to complete tasks together or coordinate their work towards a shared purpose.
  • Deciding—when a group needs to make a shared decision.

One trap leaders and meeting conveners often fall into is trying to accomplish a purpose that does not require shared agreement under the guise of a meeting. For example, if your purpose is to inform or to consult or engage people where the final decision is not to be made by the group, then it is helpful to participants when you call your gathering what it is, or seek other channels for accomplishing these ends. For example, call your gathering an information session or huddle, or a consultation or engagement session. For information dissemination, you might also spend time thinking about the best media to share the information.

Once you determine a meeting is necessary, getting clear on your desired outcomes is essential as this guides an intentional design towards those outcomes as well as determining who needs to be there. One trap here is inviting people who are connected to the purpose but not essential to accomplishing the desired outcomes. For discussion meetings—which perspectives must be represented? For doing meetings—what unique expertise is needed to accomplish the identified group tasks? For decision meetings—are the right decision-makers at the table?

Addressing the issue of time is essential. The trap here is that meetings can be ineffective either because they are unnecessarily long for the task (hence a waste of time) or too short (hence frustrating because the outcomes are not adequately accomplished).

Transforming your meeting culture requires careful attention to these questions regularly and a constant check-up of how you are doing to establish healthy meeting norms. A fundamental mindset shift needs to be from meetings as a waste of time or an unnecessary workplace ritual to meetings as a place were work gets done! Because who wouldn’t want to leave meetings saying:

  • That was a valuable use of my time.
  • That helped me get my work done.
  • I love our meetings.
  • Our meetings are productive.
  • We only meet when it’s necessary.
  • Our meetings are efficient and effective.
  • I can stay focused during our meetings because they are engaging.

And remember, your meeting culture is a core part of your organizational culture, so it’s worth your attention.