I’ve heard the phrase “We had a good meeting,” or some derivative of it so many times that I’ve lost count. Whenever I hear this meeting review or it’s ugly stepchild, “We talked about a lot at that meeting,” alarm bells start ringing, my spider sense tingles and I have to resist the sudden urge to scream.
As best as I can tell, my visceral reaction(s) to “the good meeting” verbiage has a lot to do with the fact that when I politely inquire as to what made it good, I receive wishy-washy, touchy-feely kind of answers like: “ we reached a common understanding,” or, “we got on the same page,” or something else that tells me that there was no point to the meeting.
With a bit more probing about the meeting outcome, I can usually satisfy my hypothesis that not only was there no point to the meeting and, there was no action-oriented outcome that when realized will move us one step closer to executing on a key strategy. Last and not least, the “good meeting” vernacular is generally put forth by people that I view as Professional Meeting Attendees. You know the type…an outlook calendar so full that it’s a lock there’s no time to do any work other than to show up at the next meeting.
I’ve posted on my perspective about meetings before and offered some reasonable advice for ensuring productivity if you absolutely have to have a meeting. (See: Leaders Are Your Meetings Straight Out of A Dilbert Comic Strip and How to Improve A Dysfunctional Meeting Culture Without Removing the Chairs.) While not interested in repeating myself I feel duty bound to raise the flag on this rampant productivity killer that infects so many cultures.
People grow accustomed to the comfort of the meeting room. In most cultures, there is little accountability for meeting output, so it is at least in part a paid social experience. People saunter in, crack jokes, catch up with colleagues and then ten minutes after the hour, the person that called the meeting pulls people to order. Everyone gets serious for a few minutes, an issue is highlighted and then it is fascinating to watch the meeting masters at work. A Professional Meeting Attendee knows that if he or she raises some sticky questions everyone will marvel at how on-top-of the issue that they are. The Pro also knows that a few good questions will ensure that there will need to be a follow-up meeting, thus perpetuating their existence. It’s Darwinian survival right in front of your eyes.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
OK, I will end my rave with a few reminders for leaders everywhere:
- Strive to run meetings that have a purpose and a clear, action-oriented outcome. (Brainstorming meetings are a separate issue..and they still need a purpose.)
- Teach by example with your own meetings. Your rigor and discipline in managing meetings for productive information exchange and pointed outcome will serve as a model of meeting behavior for your subordinates to follow.
- Show up at the meetings that your subordinates meetings and provide coaching feedback soon after the meeting. Your goal with the coaching feedback is to elicit behavioral change, so remember that you need to show up again (and again) in the future to monitor and provide feedback on progress.
- High-level executives are some of the biggest abusers of good meeting protocol. This starts at the top.
- Always tie meeting topics to strategic objectives. If you cannot, consider killing the meeting.
- Beware recurring meetings on your calendar. After a few sessions they tend to degrade.
- Take pride in running great, productive, action-oriented, strategically focused meetings.
- Never ever give up trying to promote effective meeting management! It's an insidious productivity killer that requires constant vigilance.