Meetings where intelligent workers turn into unproductive zombies, meetings scheduled to last half an hour that really last three, meetings where the plate of biscuits in the middle of the table appears to have more purpose and drive than the discussion going on around it: bad meetings are a fact of office life.
It is possible to stop your organisation wasting time and money on meetings that don’t achieve anything. silicon.com has drawn up a list of steps executives should take to keep meetings under control.
1. Ask yourself if you really need to have a meeting
Before you even begin the process of setting up a meeting, you should ask yourself if a meeting is necessary in the first place.
“A lot of meetings are a complete and utter waste of time,” Sean McPheat, managing director of executive coaching firm MTD Training, told silicon. “And that’s because they’re not focused. People just turn up. People don’t know what the purpose is.”
Before calling a meeting, executives should review the magnitude of the issue they want to discuss and ask, ‘Who does this decision ultimately impact? Can we make a decision now and let people know about it in the future? Or do we need to get people involved now so they can have their say and save us some time later on?’”, McPheat said.
2. Limit the time that can be spent in meetings
The best kinds of meetings are “very short, sharp, focused meetings”, according to McPheat, so the individual who is acting as facilitator should try to avoid long, drawn-out discussions.
“You can have a meeting for a couple of hours and just be busy talking and doing nothing really. It’s the chairperson’s responsibility to really keep it on track,” he said.
“Some chairpeople actually get everybody to stand up and no meeting lasts more than 15 minutes, so that means whatever is discussed in that room has to be short, sharp, to the point and centred on action.”
US author Aaron Dignan describes a similar technique in Game Frame, his recent book on gamification. Dignan explains how one company tried to get rid of unnecessary meetings by issuing managers with an allocated amount of tokens, which they could trade in for time spent in meetings.
Each token was worth 15 minutes and when a manager ran out of tokens, they were not allowed to ask their employees to spend any more time in meetings. The company also issued every employee with a single token that could immediately end any meeting if they felt it was unproductive.
By making time available for meetings a limited resource, Dignan writes that managers are more likely to use that time in a valuable way, and the ability of the employees to end unproductive meetings gave managers an extra incentive to keep meetings focused.
3. Incognito icebreakers
“The worst thing is if people turn up and they don’t know one another, they don’t know where they come from and they don’t know any background behind the people and everyone just goes at it not really understanding everybody’s point of view,” McPheat said.
For meetings to run smoothly, attendees should know each other and be familiar with what each individual can bring to the table. But is the typical icebreaker, ‘Tell us your name and a few words about yourself’ the best way to familiarise people with each other?
“Icebreakers can be really good, but the person who is running the meeting has to have a sense for the tone of the group,” Connson Locke, lecturer in organisational behaviour at London School of Economics, told silicon.com.
“There are some groups who just hate icebreakers and if you try to do an icebreaker they will laugh at you, and for…