Saturday, February 7, 2009

Are You Running Too Many Poor Or Nonproductive Meetings

Writen by Tim Connor

There are numerous meetings that take place every day in organizations. There are informal spur-of-the-moment meetings. There are weekly staff update meetings. There are monthly executive briefings. And there are board meetings, training meetings, strategic planning retreats, meetings with clients, staff and suppliers.

Most meetings generally take too long, cover too little, end without specific plans, objectives or outcomes and waste time, money and resources. I believe that "meeting" is an important business function. Meetings get people together to share information, ideas, problems, activities, solutions and feelings.

One of the common complaints of many employees (including managers) is how many meetings are held that are a waste of time, energy and company resources. These meetings can be anything from an organized once-a-year corporate annual meeting or retreat to those spontaneous meetings where people say, "let's take a few minutes and get together and see if we can work this out, solve this or come up with some creative ideas."

What would you guess is the total number of man-hours spent in meetings in your department or organization in a month? Just multiply the total number of meetings every day for a thirty day period, by the number of people in those meetings by the length of time then divided by 60 and then multiply by 20. If you can handle it you can also take your average hourly wage (that includes the payroll for executives and managers who may be not be on an hourly wage) and multiply that times your total number of hours. This exercise might take a few minutes and don't do it if you are on any kind of cardio vascular medication.

My research indicates that most managers and executives spend too much time in meetings and not enough time taking actions or making decisions that will solve the problems that cause the need for another meeting. Actually my research found that 63 % of managers said that most of the meetings they attend are redundant, a waste of time or poorly run.

Most meetings generally take too long, cover too little or too much, end without specific plans, objectives, decisions, outcomes or results and often waste time, money and resources. I believe that meeting are an important business function. Meetings get people together to share information, ideas, problems, activities, solutions and feelings. But poor meetings will often have the opposite effect.

Achieving closure in meetings.

If you have ever been to a meeting where more of the agenda was left on the table unfinished at the end of a meeting than was accomplished welcome to one of the most common meeting challenges. Getting closure on problems, issues, programs – whatever. Why do meetings end without closure on items that are put off or pushed forward again and again? There are any number of reasons.

-Too aggressive of an agenda.
-Not effectively managing discussions, conflict or the contributions of the participants.
-Poor meeting leadership.
-People are just 'meeting burned out'.
-Meeting interruptions.
-A lack of overall meeting control.
-Not giving the participants a heads up in advance on what will be covered.
-Poor time management.
-A lack of an emotionally safe meeting environment where people can and do share real feelings, opinions and ideas.
-An ego run meeting.
-Unresolved personal agendas.
-A corporate culture of manipulation, secrecy or a lack of trust.
-The people who need to be present are absent.

These are a just the major ones. There are obviously many others. So what's the answer to getting closure on any meeting whether a three day strategic planning meeting or a meeting to discuss changing an out-dated policy or procedure? Why not take a closer look at the above list and see if the reasons why your meetings lack closure falls in one of those categories.

Another way is to conduct a post meeting evaluation or participant survey asking people for their evaluation of the effectiveness of the meeting. This will be a total waste of time if you don't have a safe corporate culture or your employees know you really don't want or can't handle the truth especially if you were running the meeting.

Here are a few other ideas to consider.

-Limit discussions on topics to stay on track.

-Do not move to a new agenda item until you have closure on the previous topic. Better to resolve one item even if it takes the entire meeting than to leave after a lengthy discussion on several topics and then adjourning without conclusions on any of them.

-Rotate who leads routine meetings. If it is a weekly staff meeting why not delegate the planning and running of the meeting each week to a different manager.

-Have a set of meeting rules in advance that everyone is aware of and ensure that everyone adheres to them.

-Control distractions, side conversations and interruptions.

-Don't have meetings during a meal, they waste too much time.

-Give people an agenda in advance of the meeting advising of them of what will be covered, the objectives and what they are expected to contribute

Setting and following clear meeting objectives.

Meetings take time. Meetings keep employees away from what they are generally paid to do; to perform tasks, responsibilities, roles or job functions. Meetings are either a total waste of time or valuable exercises.

Ask the average employee what is their biggest time waster and they will most likely tell you – attending unproductive, unnecessary or just stupid meetings.

Expecting positive outcomes from a meeting when the objectives are not clearly established and communicated is a sure-fire way to ensure that you end up with a less than productive meeting.

There are all kinds of meetings held every day in corporate America.

-Hallway meetings. "Hey Harry let's talk about this issue or problem." -Weekly or monthly staff or department meetings. -Last minute meetings caused by an unexpected problem or a challenge. -Product review meetings, employee review meetings, training meetings etc.

Just because you determine a set of meeting objectives before a meeting doesn't mean you have to limit the discussion to the planned agenda items as long as you are adhering your meeting objectives. The purpose of meetings are generally to solve a problem, make a plan, determine a policy, get input, share information, arrive at decisions or direction or just keep people informed.

Meetings can be an extremely valuable tool for keeping all employees current with accurate information because they all get the same information at the same time leaving a lesser likelihood of confusion, misunderstanding or mis - communicated items. Or, they are an excellent way to get a consensus on a decision or a plan.

The problem arises when any of the following take place.

-People who need to be in the meeting are not there.
-People who don't need to be in the meeting are there.
-Meetings are rushed because people have to get to their next meeting.
-People don't know why they are at this particular meeting.
-People bring lot's of old baggage to any meeting.
-Discussion topics run wild with no apparent purpose.
-People vent for whatever reason having nothing to do with the meeting agenda.

A set of clear, simple, followed and communicated in advance meeting objectives, not necessarily the agenda - but that helps too - is one of the best ways to have a valuable, purposeful and productive meeting. Without them you will tend to wander, waste time and end without results.

Why are so many meetings boring, too long, ineffective, slow moving and generally produce few decisions and actions? There are many reasons. Here are a few:

1. Poor preparation.

2. Poor planning.

3. Poor leadership.

4. Poor listening on the part of attendees.

5. Hidden agendas that don't get out in the open.

6. Inability to make decisions.

7. Poor follow-up on meeting agenda items.

8. Top-down "shooting the messenger".

9. Bottom-up editing.

10. They were unnecessary to begin with.

11. Allowing too much or too little time for the meeting.

So what can you do to ensure you are not wasting your employees time, demotivating them with poor meetings and contributing to their poor productivity?

Here are twenty simple guidelines for conducting more effective meetings. There are others but if you will follow these you will be well on your way to more productive meetings for everyone in attendance.

1. Is this meeting necessary? Now? Why?

2. Carefully consider who should attend the meeting and why. What will they add or what do they need to take away from it. Do the participants you have selected to attend really need to be there? Or, is it that they always have attended this particular meeting and that's the only rationale for their attendance.

3. Have you carefully anticipated possible distractions, obstacles, problems, responses? And planned for them?

4. Who will chair or run the meeting? Why him or her?

5. What is the general theme or purpose of the meeting?

6.Typically, how do the attendees respond or react to your meetings? Why? What can you do to improve their reaction?

7. Have a written, clear, specific and action focused agenda.

8. Let people know the agenda in advance, so they can come prepared to ask questions or contribute intelligently.

9. Follow the agenda.

10. Stick to the allotted time.

11. Keep the meeting moving.

12. Stay focused in the present.

13. Constructively manage the different personalities attending the meeting.

14. Have closure on items or establish a specific time to meet again to address these tabled issues.

15. Hold those people who leave with assigned tasks or activities accountable.

16. Don't get bogged down

17.Don't shoot the messenger. Encourage opposing viewpoints and ideas.

18. Leave your ego in the coat closet.

19. Don't invalidate the participants.

20. Start and end on time.

Tim Connor, CSP is an internationally renowned sales, relationship, management and leadership speaker, trainer and best selling author. Since 1981 he has given over 3500 presentations in 21 countries on a variety of sales, management and relationship topics. He is the best selling author of over 60 books including; He can be reached at, 704-895-1230 or visit his website at

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