A common complaint of those in the working world is that they spend too much time in meetings. Many feel that if it weren't for the multitude of meetings that occur at work, their productivity would soar. Meetings are the most universally despised part of work life. Drawn-out meetings with no clear goals or outcomes are one of the most common grievances among all professionals.
Ineffective meetings do more than ruin your day. According to William R. Daniels, senior consultant at American Consulting & Training in Mill Valley, Calif., "Meetings matter because that's where an organization's culture perpetuates itself. So every day, if we go to boring meetings full of boring people, then we can't help but think that this is a boring company," says Daniels. "Bad meetings are a source of negative messages about our company and ourselves."
Create 'Uptime' MeetingsPerhaps the biggest stigma attached to meetings is that people don't view them as real work. They think, "The meeting is over. Let's get back to work." The only way to get rid of this stigma is for every meeting to be viewed as "uptime" instead of "downtime," explains Daniels.
Among the best examples of "uptime" meetings are those held at semiconductor manufacturer Intel Corp., based in Palo Alto, Calif. The company stresses the importance of meetings to employees from their first day of employment. Every new employeefrom entry-level to senior-level professionalsmust take an Intel-developed course on effective meetings. The course isn't complicated, says Michael Fors, corporate training manager at Intel University. It's about mastering the basicssuch as setting clear agendas, clear goals and realistic outcomes.
Clear reminders about the importance of corporate gatherings are evident in every Intel conference room throughout the world, via a poster that lists a series of simple questions about meetings: "Do you know the purpose of this meeting? Do you have an agenda? Do you know your role? Do you follow the rules of good minutes?"
"There is a science to meetings that is available to people now," notes Michael Begeman, manager of the 3M Meeting Network, a group of meeting experts assembled by Minneapolis-based 3M Corp. Information describing how to make meetings more productive is available, he says. The problem is that "most people haven't learned it or don't bother to use it."
Based on the work by Begeman and Daniels, here are five ways to improve the effectiveness of any meeting:
- Decide what type of conversation is needed before calling the
meeting and let participants know. By doing so, you make it clear to
meeting participants what is expected of them. For example, if the
meeting is being held to generate ideas it could be labeled
"conversation for possibility." Participants should know that idea
generating is in order and maximum creativity will be explored during
the meeting. A meeting that requires an immediate decision could be
called "conversation for action." Another type of meeting could be built
around a "conversation of opportunity," in which the goal is to narrow
down existing options.
- Reduce the length of each meeting. Most experts say that gatherings
should never last longer than 90 minutes. In some cases, a 10-minute
meeting may be all you need. The idea is to not go over the time you've
allotted. One way to drive this message home to your boss and colleagues
is to track the cost of meetings. If people realize how expensive
meetings can be, based on participants' time, they may be more apt to
stick to a specific meeting time period.
- Convert decisions into actions. To avoid having people leave the
same meeting with different views of what is supposed to happen next,
assign tasks that lead to specific actions.
- Get serious about using agendas. Without an agenda, it's hard to
keep meetings on track and even more difficult for participants to
understand what their role is. Intel is religious about its use of
agendas. Employees even have access to an agenda template for ease of
use and consistency. At Intel, agendas are circulated several days
before the specified meeting to let participants react to or modify it.
The agendas also include information about the meeting's key topics, who
will lead various parts of the discussion, how long each topic of
discussion will take, and what outcomes are expected.
- Use toys. Begeman swears by them: "If you want people to work together effectively, let them play together." He suggests keeping squeeze balls, Slinkys and Tinker Toys in conference rooms because they serve a dual purposeas stress relievers and creativity enhancers.