Meetings are a necessary evil at the workplace. If you’ve worked anywhere for more than a few days, then you most likely have already been to meetings. Since meetings are so commonplace, they must be indisputably effective in their purpose, right? So why do so many people dread going to their meetings? Are they as effective as meeting leaders seem to think? Is there a way to make meetings more palatable? Meeting management is one of the important management skills so let’s dive right into the answer to these questions.
I can imagine that Adam and Eve had their little family meetings ‘back in the day’, so the concept of meetings has been around a while. Meetings are here to stay, but maybe we can make sense of meeting-mania and find some tips for streamlining your meetings and getting the most from them. First of all, what is the purpose of any meeting? Typically, a meeting is designed to either update members on the status of a particular subject or project, or to gather information and brainstorm.
Most meetings are of the first kind, the status update meeting. These are regularly scheduled meetings with the same old folks to get everyone on the same page with regards to some common bond – same team, same project, etc. Since every team and every project has a standing meeting, usually weekly, an employee’s calendar can fill up fairly quickly, depending on how many teams and projects he’s a part of. A project manager can have multiple projects going on, plus if he’s managing people, he’s got a team meeting, plus a managers meeting, etc. You’ve probably heard someone say “I’m in meetings all day”. It can happen, because they do tend to add up, leaving less time to attend to your actual responsibilities.
The other type of meeting is a brainstorming meeting. These are typically not regular meetings, but designed to kick off a new project or address some specific issue. These meetings may last longer, even all day, but aren’t regularly scheduled standing meetings. Because of the focused nature of these meetings, they are more productive and benefit from a synergy that usually is lacking from the ordinary update meetings.
If the regularly scheduled meetings seem to be the bottleneck, maybe we could take some aspects of the brainstorming meeting and apply them to the standing meeting. Plus if we just add some common sense to our meetings, we can make them more effective, shorter and more engaging.
First of all, don’t have a meeting just for the sake of meeting. If the meeting is simply 30 minutes of idle chatter among the attendees, with a 5 minute status update from the meeting leader, then an email update would probably suffice.
Second, if you are the leader and don’t wish to communicate your updates via email, then have a schedule and stick to it. Be early, have your presentation or data ready to view on time. Make it a point to stress punctuality among your attendees. If you start right on time every week, then your members will get in the habit of coming on time to avoid that icy stare you get from the room when you interrupt a meeting in progress.
Save the snacks for afterwards. If you have coffee or doughnuts available at the onset of the meeting, then be ready for lots of chatter, standing around the coffee dispenser, passing of the doughnut box – all during the time that you should be discussing your topics. You might think that it makes people more at ease and receptive, but you really are just providing a distraction.
Don’t try to cram too much into one meeting. If you have a large team that you want updates from, as well as communicating your information to the team, then you may be in for a long one.