Without proper focus, planning events become worthless time-wasters
ANYONE who regularly chairs a meeting has certainly heard about the well-known video called Meetings, Meetings, Bloody Meetings, starring the famous John Cleese.
In the video, Cleese cleverly uses insight and humour to demonstrate a number of elements commonly experienced in unproductive meetings. While we can laugh at the antics displayed in the video, I will guarantee there are many of us who find the issue of unproductive meetings far from funny.
Actually, I find unproductive meetings a waste of my professional time and quite frankly, I feel insulted by them. What am I so cranky about? First of all, I resent attending a meeting where none of the attendees come prepared. In spite of the fact the chairman or chairwoman sent materials to participants ahead of time, it seems that few people actually do their homework. Thus, since no one is ready to contribute to a discussion and/ or make a decision, this means that too much time will be spent on questions and explanations of the issue at hand.
You guessed it: Instead of a meeting duration of 1.5 hours, a meeting such as this will extend to three to four hours. Not only that, as decision time arrives, some of the participants will have already excused themselves, thus failing to leave behind a quorum. Therefore, no participants — no votes — no decision. The item is then carried forward on the next meeting agenda and we all leave frustrated.
Secondly, I find it especially tiring when participants talk on and on about various details, but seem to miss the whole point. They don’t seem to understand what their own issue is really all about and can’t seem to isolate the details from the underlying issue itself. Then, as you might expect, listeners get lost in the discussion and become confused, annoyed and anxious to “get on with it.” Once again, this type of meeting will drag on and on until participants begin to excuse themselves and the quorum of voters slowly but surely begins to disappear.
What about the meeting agenda? Frankly, I find that many meeting agendas are actually quite poorly organized. Every year, leader after leader takes on the role of chairman, but most simply stick with the old format and carry on. And so you will find decisions that must be made are either sprinkled all over the agenda and/or are left for last. As you can imagine, if the first two of my complaints occur at the same time as a poor agenda, the meeting is no longer three to four hours but may even take up the entire day. Meetings, meetings, bloody meetings!
What sage advice would bring an end to unproductive meetings? The following strategies will help you go a long way toward ensuring your meetings are efficient and effective:
Ensure the people assigned to your meetings have genuine interest and will take responsibility for doing their homework. If you have time, send a reminder email and/or have someone call to remind them about the importance of their readings.
Rearrange your agenda so that important decisions are made at the start of the meeting. Include sections referred to as: For decision; For discussion; and For information. Set a time limit for each area as this provides guidance for both the chairman and participants.
Create a document called an “issue sheet.” Train your participants to use it until it is etched in their minds and they can think strategically in this manner. The “issue sheet” asks the following questions. What is the issue, the problem, the challenge or obstacle that you wish the meeting to deal with? What is the impact on your organization? What are some potential solutions that you have identified and/or wish the participants to discuss? What is your recommendation and what is your rationale? This issue sheet will prevent people from “going on and on” about their topic and will lend significant efficiency to your meeting.
Prepare mock motions for each of the issues ahead of time to make your meeting more efficient, because the participants will only need to tinker with the motion rather than create the statement on the spot. This also makes taking minutes more efficient.
Confirm the decision-making process for your committee; follow it consistently.
Should a meeting be called for a specific purpose, be sure that everyone understands what that purpose is, that they are sent the appropriate documents for review and they come prepared for a thorough discussion.
Refuse to accept attendee lateness, as this can be one of the most disruptive forces in a meeting.
If people are working in a geographically dispersed environment, use new technology such as Skype to ensure inclusiveness.
Ensure the chairman has the skills to facilitate discussion and keep things on track.
Stop conflict in its tracks. If an issue is going to require more time, more examination and more discussion, stop the discussion and table it for an upcoming meeting.
Establish a set time frame for the meeting and stick to it; items not addressed will need to be moved to the next meeting and/or assigned to a subcommittee.
Summarize and document your action items and distribute the minutes as soon as possible before people forget what they have committed to.
Conduct an evaluation at the end of every meeting; assess your own personal participation as well as that of others.
Meetings, meetings, bloody meetings — the scourge of organizations everywhere.
While we can laugh at the video starring Cleese, everyone knows that inefficient meetings are really no laughing matter. Now is the time to review your meeting successes and failures; develop a new strategy to start off your fall season with a bang.