I’m listening to a half dozen people have a long and rambling meeting about their local parent teacher organization (PTO). I’m supposed to be blogging, but I find eavesdropping on this train wreck to be more interesting. Why? Because I think this is how most meetings seem to go in modern business, and I wish that people knew that there were other ways to accomplish things. Here are my ideas on how not to have mind-numbing office meetings.
Schedule for Brevity
One of my old bosses, Dan Carney, used to tell me to schedule meetings to be no more than 10 minutes. As project manager, he had me do all the running around outside of the meeting so that I could have individual conversations with the stakeholders in the pending meeting, and so that I could hear them at length outside the time frame of the meeting. This worked magical wonders, for three reasons:
- People knew the meetings would be brief so they showed up on time.
- People knew I’d done my homework, so they just nodded their heads at the right parts.
- People gave their best efforts to be on the “good” side of the updates at these meetings, because being “behind” or “delayed” or in an otherwise negative status really stands out in a 10 minute meeting.
If you think you can’t schedule meetings to be shorter than they are, you’ve never seen the President of the US’s schedule. Meetings don’t have to be 30 minutes, just because Outlook defaults to 30 minutes.
Keep Agendas Taut
What this PTO meeting is doing wrong is that they veered away from the agenda into other topics. If you don’t keep to the agenda, you’re asking for rambling and wandering. I’ve heard the same point raised seven times in the last 20 minutes. No one is disagreeing. They’re just not moving on because they don’t have an agenda that’s pointing them towards agreeing, disagreeing, and moving on.
Keep Meetings Report-Minded and Action-Driven
Meetings are read-outs of information, and/or they’re a place to agree upon decisions and actions. Discussions aren’t necessarily the goal of meetings. In fact, discussions are a perfect way to drown a meeting in conversation. The reason is simple: people aren’t prepared to debate at most meetings, and so they fall back on repetition and minutiae. By keeping meetings focused on decisions: new logo or stay with the old (for example), you’re pushing towards a better result.
Table Anything That Doesn’t Fit the Format
Never ever ever let someone else throw a mess into the meeting. Stay on top. Thank the person for raising the issue. Mention that you’ll put it into consideration for the next agenda. Handle it offline. Do whatever. But don’t handle topics that aren’t on agenda in the meeting “just because we’re gathered around.”
Meetings Aren’t Work
Meetings aren’t work. They’re what we do as a penance for not rolling along like clockwork. Sure there are some exceptions to that, but think about it. What are meetings at your company and with your culture? Most times, more often than not, meetings are what you do that keeps you from doing your real work.
That’s all that’s on my agenda. You’re welcome to add your thoughts and feelings.
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