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Taming the Meeting Monster (part 2 of 3)


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Managing Teams
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By Tom Davidson

A successful manager needs to be both planful and mindful of the nature of people in groups. Use their time well, and they will appreciate your efforts and reward you with cooperation. Treat them like children, and they will revolt in unexpected ways.

Research reveals something most of us already know, that between 50 and 80 percent of meeting time is unproductive.

– “I couldn’t get back to you because I was in meetings all day!”
– “I don’t have time for you, I’ll be in meetings all week.”
– “Oh great, another meeting where we talk about a problem but don’t do anything about it!”

If this sounds familiar, then you may have fallen victim to one of the great plagues of the 21st Century workforce, the Meeting Monster! Here are three tips 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 second of these three pointers. The first was covered in the previous blog in this series, and the third will be discussed in the next one.

Structure and Timing
My Dad had a great expression for leading teams of people. He said it was “like shoveling smoke.” Just when you think things are headed one way, they go another, and it seems like you have no control. Meetings can be like that too, so here are three ways to use structure and timing to keep things on a productive track:

     – Make a plan. You don’t need Roberts Rules of Order or a strict agenda, which can make your meetings stilted and rigid, but you do need a plan. Before the meeting, lay out the phases of the event in a logical sequence. For example, it might be

* Opening remarks and purpose
* Reviewing the plan for the meeting
* Explaining the status of the project or issue at hand
* Asking for ideas
* Prioritizing ideas
* Closing with concrete next steps

     – Estimate time for each component. This doesn’t have to be precise or rigidly adhered to, but if you don’t estimate the timeframe for each segment, you are almost certain to run out of time or get so far off track that people will be frustrated with the pace. As the meeting moves along, the fact that you have laid out the phases of the meeting with timeframes will give you a good excuse to point out where the group is in its process and how much time remains. If you haven’t laid that out from the beginning, these time checks will feel like impatience on your part and unwelcome interruptions.

     – Make adjustments.A deft leader knows to balance precision with flexibility, so it’s important to strike the right balance in every situation. If you’ve done your homework, let people know the purpose of the meeting and set up a plan with their knowledge and help, you stand the best chance of staying on track. But if something changes before or during the meeting, you may have to be especially nimble, perhaps having to eliminate or shorten some of the components you had planned to cover. In fact, you may have to change the focus of the meeting entirely. Do this only by

  • Checking for general agreement among the participants
  • Setting up another meeting for the new focus and continuing with your original plan
  • Asking the group what would be the best next steps since the meeting has taken an unexpected turn

Because leading people is “like shoveling smoke,” the successful manager needs to be both planful and mindful of the nature of people in groups. Use their time well, and they will appreciate your efforts and reward you with cooperation. Treat them like children, and they will revolt in unexpected ways.

Check back next time for a discussion on Leadership and Ground Rules, the third installment on Taming the Meeting Monster.


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