I spend an inordinate amount of time in meetings. Without exaggeration, as an executive, I spend more than 70% of my day in meetings. Why? Are these meetings adding value?
Let me first set client meetings aside. Those are always infinitely valuable and critical to help build market understanding and develop deeper relationships. However, beyond that, there’s likely a significant portion of non-client meetings that do not add value.
To be fair, I am part of the problem – and you probably are, too (we’re the ones calling some of these meetings). So let’s take a look at some of our challenges and the corresponding opportunities.
Challenge #1: A lack of objectives.
We attend too many meetings that do not have any stated objectives. That needs to change. If we are too busy to think of objectives, perhaps we are be too busy to attend a meeting that does not have them.
Opportunity: Improve meeting clarity.
Include objectives in every meeting invitation. Tell the participants what actions or decisions you will be trying to make. This should allow for clarity, and it should also set preparedness expectations for the participants (and you).
Challenge #2: Too much time is spent simply sharing information.
We attend meetings where the main purpose is information sharing. Sharing information is important, but can it be accomplished without calling a meeting? A phone call, email, or internal social network (if your company offers it), perhaps? Any of these avenues could then lay the groundwork for in-person conversations, if further discussion is needed.
Opportunity: Reduce the number of meetings.
Try to limit meetings to 10% information sharing and 90% action and decisions. That should lead to an overall reduction in the number of meetings, as well as hopefully an improvement in effectiveness.
Challenge #3: We revisit and rehash.
Sometimes, we have the same meeting over and over again. Why? It seems like one main reason is that we like to revisit our decisions. Another issue is attendance; sometimes team members cannot attend the original meeting. Busy executives in particular will not be able to make every meeting.
Opportunity: Revisit decisions at key points or milestones.
Perhaps we should put a timeframe around implementing the decision, before we revisit the original decision. This would allow for reflection after action has been taken, as opposed to stopping action. As for attendance, if we cannot make the meeting, we should send a proxy. In the spirit of progress, we need to empower and delegate to our team members.
Challenge #4: There is a lack of accountability and follow through.
Not every meeting ends with owners, actions and timelines – but they should. By not having clear next steps and owners, you end up creating numerous follow-up meetings to confirm scope, see if anything is getting done (basically, babysitting grown professionals).
Opportunity: Wrap up meetings with next steps and owners.
If you end with next steps, owners and timelines, you improve the value of follow-up. The only meeting that would be necessary is when an owner is behind. Then a meeting is called – not to say we are behind, but to decide what action needs to be taken to get on track.
Create follow-up built around facilitating actions only when you are behind. Use technology as a way to share information outside of meetings through email, voicemail and your company’s social collaboration site, if you have one.
Challenge #5: People show up unprepared.
Even when there are meeting objectives and agendas, sometimes people come unprepared. Most meetings should not called to prepare participants; they should be called so that prepared participants can actually make decisions. Meetings designed for decisions should be just that.
Opportunity: Meet when everyone is ready.
Make sure everyone understands the objectives of the meeting they’re asked to attend and prepare for all meetings in advance. Anyone not prepared should acknowledge that up front and accept the consequences. In some cases, admitting this and rescheduling can actually be the most efficient for all parties, as competing priorities are a reality most of us encounter.
Walking the talk
People who work with me hold me to these standards. For everyone else, I challenge you to reflect on your approach to meetings and see if you could benefit from making these adjustments.