Don’t let meet be­come four-let­ter word at work

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - CAREERS - COLLEEN COATES

ROP what­ever you’re do­ing; we’re hav­ing a meet­ing in 10.” Such a dis­rup­tion is rarely wel­comed by em­ploy­ees and man­agers dur­ing a busy work­day, as most of us view meet­ings as a largely un­pro­duc­tive but nec­es­sary evil. But is it pos­si­ble to ac­tu­ally en­joy meet­ings? Ab­so­lutely.

A 2010 post in the Har­vard Busi­ness Re­view went so far as to sug­gest that some of us se­cretly love meet­ings for three main rea­sons: 1) we en­joy an oc­ca­sion for so­cial con­tact; 2) they keep us in the loop; and 3) be­ing in­vited rep­re­sents sta­tus (“I’m im­por­tant”) and that our opin­ion is val­ued.

That might be a bit of a stretch, but there is no ar­gu­ing that with a lit­tle or­ga­ni­za­tion and bet­ter team col­lab­o­ra­tion out­side of the board­room, “meet” does not have to be a four-let­ter word, nor a waste of time.

It’s healthy for or­ga­ni­za­tions to step back and re­view their meet­ing pat­terns and the ef­fect they have, not only on pro­duc­tiv­ity, but the bot­tom line. Is it truly cost ef­fi­cient to pull your best (and of­ten high­est paid) peo­ple away from their work­sta­tions to throw them at each and ev­ery prob­lem that comes up? Of course not. That only nib­bles away at salary, ca­pac­ity and even­tu­ally, staff morale.

I re­cently de­vel­oped this “re­al­ity check” for man­agers to en­sure they are run­ning their meet­ings ef­fec­tively and ef­fi­ciently:

DON’T meet if the same in­for­ma­tion can be con­veyed in a memo, email or a brief re­port. This is es­pe­cially true when you are merely dis­sem­i­nat­ing in­for­ma­tion rather than ask­ing for two-way in­for­ma­tion shar­ing. Stop and ask your­self, “is a meet­ing the best way to han­dle this?”

DO meet if your meet­ing has a clear pur­pose. Set your ob­jec­tives be­fore­hand and know what out­comes to ex­pect, so you can fill in this phase: “By the end of this meet­ing, I want the team to ____.”

DON’T for­get to dis­trib­ute agen­das so that at­ten­dees can pre­pare in ad­vance. The agenda should in­clude the lo­ca­tion, date, time and place as well as a list of top­ics to be cov­ered. It would also be ben­e­fi­cial to pro­vide any back­ground in­for­ma­tion, re­ports or doc­u­ments to be re­viewed ahead of time.

DO limit the list of in­vi­tees only to those who ab­so­lutely need to be in at­ten­dance. Can the in­for­ma­tion dis­cussed by a few be dis­sem­i­nated later to the many via smaller de­part­men­tal meet­ings or a memo?

DON’T de­lay the start of the meet­ing un­til ev­ery­one ar­rives. If you are chair­ing, show up early and be­gin ex­actly at the time you promised the meet­ing would com­mence. You’ll set the tone for fu­ture ex­pec­ta­tions on ar­riv­ing on time.

DO use the agenda as a means to keep your meet­ing on track, on topic and on time. Re­view it pe­ri­od­i­cally to en­sure things con­tinue to move along, as well as to note ar­eas re­quir­ing fur­ther dis­cus­sion or the ac­tion that will be taken.

DON’T al­low one per­son to mo­nop­o­lize the dis­cus­sion. Think of a meet­ing as a liv­ing thing that must be kept in mo­tion in or­der for all the par­tic­i­pants to stay in­volved. If some­one is go­ing on too long, re­spect­fully ad­vise them that their time is com­ing to an end. “Bob, you have about an­other two min­utes be­fore we need to move on.”

DO use a “park­ing lot” for items or is­sues that come up be­yond what is on the agenda. Just write the topic on a flip chart or white board for fu­ture dis­cus­sion or save them to re­view dur­ing the last five min­utes of the meet­ing when your group can de­cide to take ac­tion, ta­ble or ig­nore.

DON’T fail to as­sign one per­son to write up the key mes­sages, ac­tions and own­ers, as well as records of de­ci­sions made.

DO end on time. Be re­spect­ful of oth­ers’ com­mit­ments. If you need to run over, en­sure you ask the group five to 10 min­utes be­fore the orig­i­nally sched­uled end of the meet­ing and then stick to the amended time.

We all tend to think we’re ex­perts at hold­ing and at­tend­ing meet­ings, but the truth is, if you don’t con­trol your meet­ings, they’ll soon con­trol you. That’s why I ad­vise or­ga­ni­za­tions to con­duct pe­ri­odic eval­u­a­tions of their meet­ings. From time to time, be sure to find out what your team gets out of your gath­er­ings and what ideas they may have for im­prov­ing them.

But just ask them. You don’t have to hold a meet­ing to find out.

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