Taming the Meeting Monster (part 1 of 3)

By Tom Davidson

Have you fallen victim to one of the great plagues of the 21st Century workforce? That would be the Meeting Monster! Here are three ideas for making your meetings as productive as they can be so you can be as successful as you must be

Do any of these sound familiar? 

– “I can’t get anything done; I’m always in meetings!”
– “She’s unavailable for weeks; she’s all booked up with meetings.”
– “I used to love my job, but I have to work overtime to do it because I’m always in meetings!” 

If so, then you’ve fallen victim to one of the great plagues of the 21st Century workforce, the Meeting Monster! Here are three ideas for making your meetings as productive as they can be so you can be as successful as you must be. 

     1. Purpose and Objectives – Make sure your meeting has a clear objective and that everyone has the same one in mind before you begin.
     2. Structure and Timing – Make a plan for the meeting (i.e., agenda, outline, process or flow), then share it, adapt it and follow it.
     3. Leadership and Ground Rules – Almost nothing is as helpful as a skilled facilitator and few shared rules of the road for your meetings.

In today’s blog, we’ll discuss the first of these three tips. The remainder will be covered in the next two blog posts of this series. 

Purpose and Objectives
Just because people have come to your meeting doesn’t mean that 

– They know why they’re there,
– They want to be there,
– They should be there, or
– They know what’s expected from the session.

So never start a meeting until you’re sure that you and everyone involved knows the specific purpose and the objectives. 

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” – Lewis Carroll 

Purpose – No matter how long your meeting is scheduled to be, even if its days long, it should have one primary purpose. This is the main reason why you are pulling people off their regular jobs, away from their families, and spending hundreds or thousands of dollars (directly and indirectly) to be together. 

So, it’s worth taking a few extra minutes to answer the question, “Why are we here?” – not just for yourself but also for everyone involved. Do it at least three times: before the meeting, at the beginning of the meeting, and at least once more during the meeting itself as a reminder. If the purpose needs to change, then change it explicitly or reschedule the meeting with the right people. Here are a few examples: 

– To develop a plan
– To solve problem “x”
– To generate new ideas on project “y”
– To keep people informed on the progress of business imperative “z”

“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” – Tony Robbins 

Objectives – Don’t let yourself get tied up in knots about the difference between a “goal” and an “objective.” They are synonymous in this case. The objectives for your meeting are the outputs you expect to generate as a result of all this brainpower being in the same room.  These might be the following: 

– An action plan with clear priorities, timelines, and who is responsible for what and by when.
– A decision, even if it’s to decide how to decide. The worst thing you can do is come together for a decision and not make one, even about the next step.
– A list of ideas that has been vetted and prioritized, with next steps as to how they will be carried forward.

If you do nothing else to improve your meetings, be clear about the purpose and objectives of each. You might find that some of your meetings aren’t even necessary! 

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