Editor's Note: There are meetings, then there are "meetings". You know, the ones you just hate to attend and have an overwhelming feeling of deja vu! Here's some good ides of how to organize and lead better (and shorter) meetings!
Ah, the workplace meeting. The reassuring buzz of fluorescent lights. The frigidity of over-air conditioned conference rooms. The rumble of pre-lunch hunger pangs. As if all of these features weren’t delightful enough, you also get the inevitable mix of personality types, poor social skills and politicking that give workplace meetings their negative reputation.
According to a Salary.com survey, 47 percent of respondents noted meetings as the biggest workplace time waster . That beats out the Internet, which was listed as a time waster by only 18 percent of respondents.
The workplace meeting doesn’t have to be a time suck by default. By applying some meeting management dexterity, you can help ensure that your group sessions do what they’re supposed to do: get things done.
Why meetings fall off course?
Workplace meetings generally fall off track for two reasons: Either they weren’t planned well, or they aren’t managed well.
1. Poor planning pitfalls: Some meetings are scheduled with only vague goals in mind, usually something along the lines of “We should discuss this.” But without specific tasks to accomplish, and someone to shepherd those tasks toward completion, a group discussion can simply continue in circles without reaching any goal.
Another common planning pitfall is to include participants who don’t really need to be there, but are simply being “kept in the loop.” Alternately, they may be included so the meeting planner can shuck off more of the decision-making responsibility. If you include your superiors in a decision-making meeting, then the decision-making power naturally falls to them.
And finally, we have everyone’s favorite meeting type: the status update, typically a drawn-out session where team members drawl on about a project status while other team members just sit there and listen (and probably daydream).
2. Meeting management mistakes: Even meetings that have been called for the right reasons and include the right participants can fall off track. One or two loud personalities might dominate the discussion, quelling other team members’ input. People often interrupt one another, creating a disjointed conversation. People can latch onto tangents that derail the meeting’s focus. Or participants might be unprepared to participate because they didn’t take the time or weren’t briefed on the meeting agenda.
Skills for keeping meetings on track!
Any number of personality quirks can derail a productive meeting. However, by keeping a firm hand on the tiller as the meeting manager, you can steer a course that achieves goals and avoids wasting time.
Here are five skills to keep in mind for your next meeting:
1. Plan well: Limit your meetings to the fewest participants possible and articulate an agenda with clear goals. As far ahead of time as possible, send the agenda along with any background material that might be needed to help prepare for the meeting.
2. Test technology ahead of time: Nothing wastes time more effectively in a meeting than a technology hiccup. Test your monitors, projectors, conferencing equipment and whatever else you might need to aid the meeting well in advance. And if you’re using computers or notebook PCs, get them fired up and ready to go at least ten minutes before the meeting is scheduled to begin.
3. Ask for input on the agenda: Either before the meeting or at the very beginning of it, ask your meeting participants if they want to add, skip or change anything on the agenda. That way, you can adapt the meeting to address all the desired goals, and avoid getting sidetracked midway through.
4. Divert interruptions: Some people just can’t keep their mouths shut when they have something they want to say, regardless of what the current topic of conversation might be. Or they may come to the meeting with their own agenda in mind. If, or rather, when interruptions occur during your meeting, try to regain control as quickly as possible.
First, ensure that the current task has been sufficiently addressed. Ask the group. If it has been addressed, consider whether the diversion is part of or should have been included in the agenda and needs to be addressed right then. If it doesn’t, suggest that the topic be addressed at a different time. Say something like, “That’s a really interesting idea, so let’s talk about that outside of this meeting and if it requires group input, we’ll schedule some time separately.”
5. Manage the attention hogs: There’s one in every crowd, right? Whether this person can’t shut up because they want to seem important or intelligent, want to score “participation” points, feel they aren’t being heard or simply have a dominating personality, the relentless attention hog is a common meeting killer.
There are a few strategies for dealing with the attention hog. Assigning time slots to items on the agenda, and frequently referring back to this agenda is one way of keeping the meeting moving along. Another strategy is to lay ground rules for speaking during the meeting, such as raising hands, going around the room and so on.
If neither of these strategies works, you could try engaging others in the conversation by asking directly what they think of the issue (“John, what do you think?”) or by paraphrasing the attention hog’s statements. (“So, let me make sure I understand what you’re saying…”) This strategy basically takes the ball away from them while also validating that they are being heard.
Practice makes perfect
As the meeting manager, it’s your responsibility to ensure that the meeting you’ve called isn’t a waste of time. So plan your meetings well, keep them to a minimum with the fewest participants as possible and practice the above skills until they become second nature. In no time at all, you’ll be a meeting management guru.