Consider the last team meeting that you attended or led:
-Was the agenda well organized?
-Did problems and polite (or not so polite) bickering dominate the airtime?
-Did people show up with an agenda of their own?
-Were the same topics that were debated in the last meeting still being debated in this meeting?
-Was much time spent on discussing ideas to create value for the firm and stakeholders? Was there substantive progress or even agreement on problems and priorities?
-How good was the action plan that came from that meeting?
-Was it clear who owned what follow-up and in what time frame?
-Did people leave feeling like their questions were answered and their priority clear?
-Were meeting notes promptly distributed?
If your answers to the above question paint a not so flattering picture of the last group meeting you led, you're not alone. That's not an excuse and it should not be much solace, but you are not alone. From sales and marketing meetings to boardroom gatherings, the dysfunctional meeting seems to be more the rule than the exception.
I make it happen to invite myself to operations and planning meetings when I am starting an engagement with a new client. After an hour or two of observation, I know more about a culture, people, leadership and issues than I might have cared to.
My observation is that only a minority of leaders (managers, supervisors, executives, project managers) understand how to properly prepare a team for and run an effective, purposeful and productive meeting. Ironically, look at the Outlook calendars of most people operating inside corporate walls, and their schedules are filled with one meeting after another. With all of these unproductive meetings to attend, who has time to work?
Some of my favorite (read humorous) meeting management techniques have included:
- Shutting and locking the door at the meeting start time. If you missed the start, you missed the meeting. Even if it was your meeting.
- Removing all chairs from the meeting room. The theory was that if people could not get comfortable, the meeting would stay focused and move faster.
- A variant of the chair and locked door approach: having one fewer chairs in a room than scheduled participants.
- Blending disorientation with discomfort and jet lag. (This is more of a negotiation tactic, but I still chuckle when recalling how effective it was.) During a negotiation session with a Japanese partner in Tokyo in August (think really hot and humid), the partner—the world's largest manufacturer of air conditioning compressors, placed us in the only non-air conditioned room in the entire 70,000 person organization. Our jet lag mixed nicely with the brutal conditions and we were finished off by our "partner" employing a platoon system for their participants. Every few hours, the entire group across the table from us would change. These fresh faces continued to whittle away at our position until it was time for the next squad of well-rested, dry negotiators. We lost.
- The Stop/Go light. OK, this one was tried by a dear friend and it had potential. He had his facilities manager construct a timer with Red/Yellow/Green lights and each meeting phase would be allocated a certain amount of time. The light would flash yellow with 10 minutes to go and at Red, that topic was over. It fell apart when the device failed. Sabotage? Hmmm.
The bottom-line for today:
Producing and managing effective meetings takes focus and discipline. Helping a culture change that has come to accept the dysfunctional meeting as way of life requires a shock to the system.
Like it or not, to propel projects, programs and businesses, humans must communicate and meet, either in person or increasingly in a virtual manner. Similar to my many posts on how organizations can dramatically improve their effectiveness in developing talent, they can also teach and reinforce daily practices like proper meeting planning, management and conduct, that when employed, offer remarkable opportunities for improvement.
Coming Next: Suggestions for Producing Great and Effective Meetings and How to Shock Your Dysfunctional Meeting Culture Without Removing the Chairs.