Tor­tured by meet­ings

CEO Magazine North America - - CONTENTS - BY RENATA BARRAGÁN

Tips to make your meet­ings more ef­fi­cient.

Meet­ings have been a form of tor­ture for of­fice staff for as long as they have pushed pen­cils and bashed key­boards. Here are six tips to make your meet­ings more ef­fi­cient.

MEET­INGS FILL AN IN­CREAS­ING NUM­BER OF HOURS of the work­day and yet most em­ploy­ees con­sider them as a waste of time. The prob­lem is noth­ing new. In 1957, C. North­cote Parkin­son, an aca­demic and leg­endary writer on the sub­ject of man­age­ment, came up with the law of triv­i­al­ity, which stated that “the time spent on any item of the agenda will be in in­verse pro­por­tion to the sum [of money] in­volved.” You can also add an­other, more con­tem­po­rary prin­ci­ple: “80% of the time of 80% of the peo­ple in meet­ings is wasted.”

Ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey of US pro­fes­sion­als by Salary.com, meet­ings ranked as the num­ber one of­fice pro­duc­tiv­ity killer. (Deal­ing with of­fice pol­i­tics was a close sec­ond.) But all is not lost. There are ac­tu­ally ways to run ef­fec­tive, ef­fi­cient meet­ings that leave your em­ploy­ees feel­ing en­er­gized and ex­cited about their work. Here are some tips:

1.

Make your ob­jec­tive clear. A meet­ing should have a spe­cific and clearly de­fined pur­pose. Be­fore you send that cal­en­dar in­vite, ask your­self: What am I seek­ing to ac­com­plish? Are you alert­ing your em­ploy­ees to a change in man­age­ment or a shift in strat­egy? Are you seek­ing in­put from oth­ers on a prob­lem fac­ing the com­pany? Are you look­ing to reach a de­ci­sion? Meet­ings with vague pur­poses, such as “sta­tus up­dates,” are rarely a good use of time. Ac­cord­ing to the Salary.com sur­vey, fol­low­ing the con­clu­sion of at least 80% of meet­ings, any de­ci­sions taken will be in line with the HIPPO, or “high­est-paid per­son’s opin­ion.” In short, those who backed a dif­fer­ent out­come will have wasted their breath. Per­haps be­cause they are aware of the fu­til­ity of their in­put, fewer than half of the peo­ple in a large meet­ing will bother to speak and at least half of the at­ten­dees will at some point check their phones.

2.

Con­sider who is in­vited. Part of the prob­lem lies in the para­dox that, al­though work­ers hate at­tend­ing meet­ings, they loathe be­ing ex­cluded even more. Noth­ing is so likely to in­duce para­noia than a depart­ment meet­ing to which you are not in­vited. To avoid this fear, man­agers are tempted to in­vite as many peo­ple as might be in­ter­ested. But when you’re call­ing a meet­ing, take time to think about who re­ally needs to be there. If you’re an­nounc­ing an im­por­tant change, in­vite the peo­ple who are af­fected by the an­nounce­ment. If you’re try­ing to solve a prob­lem, in­vite the peo­ple who might be good sources of in­for­ma­tion for a so­lu­tion. When peo­ple feel that what’s be­ing dis­cussed isn’t rel­e­vant to them, or that they lack the skills or ex­per­tise to be of as­sis­tance, they’ll likely re­gard their at­ten­dance at the meet­ing as a waste of time.

3.

Stick to your sched­ule. Most meet­ings drag on for too long. Cre­ate an agenda that lays out ev­ery­thing you plan to cover in the meet­ing, along with a time­line that al­lots a cer­tain num­ber of min­utes to each item, and email it to peo­ple in ad­vance. Mau­rice Sch­weitzer, pro­fes­sor of man­age­ment at the Whar­ton School of the Uni­ver­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia, says that meet­ings work best when peo­ple are pre­pared. In­form­ing peo­ple of the agenda in ad­vance keeps them from be­ing caught off guard—sur­prise of­ten leads to a neg­a­tive re­ac­tion to plans. Sadly, he adds, prepa­ra­tion is not a sexy part of man­age­ment and sel­dom gets done. they’ll likely re­gard their at­ten­dance at the meet­ing as a waste of time.

4.

Take no hostages. Noth­ing de­rails a meet­ing faster than one per­son talk­ing more than his fair share. If you no­tice one per­son mo­nop­o­liz­ing the con­ver­sa­tion, call him out. Say, “We ap­pre­ci­ate your con­tri­bu­tions, but now we need in­put from oth­ers be­fore mak­ing a de­ci­sion.” If a meet­ing’s ob­jec­tive is to learn what peo­ple think, a new ap­proach is re­quired. Low-sta­tus em­ploy­ees should be en­cour­aged to speak, says Sch­weitzer, and there should be a “no in­ter­rup­tion rule” so they can­not be in­tim­i­dated. An­other op­tion would be to let peo­ple sub­mit views anony­mously in ad­vance.half of the peo­ple in a large meet­ing will bother to speak and at least half of the at­ten­dees will at some point check their phones.

“If you’re try­ing to solve a prob­lem, in­vite the peo­ple who might be good sources of in­for­ma­tion for a so­lu­tion.”

“Meet­ings work best when peo­ple are pre­pared. In­form­ing peo­ple of the agenda in ad­vance keeps them from be­ing caught off guard—sur­prise of­ten leads to a neg­a­tive re­ac­tion to plans.”

5.

Start on time, end on time. If you have re­spon­si­bil­ity for run­ning reg­u­lar meet­ings and you have a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing some­one who starts and ends promptly, you will be amazed how many of your col­leagues will make ev­ery ef­fort to at­tend your meet­ings. Peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate it when you show un­der­stand­ing for the fact that their time is valu­able. An­other note on time: Do not sched­ule any meet­ing to last longer than an hour. Sixty min­utes is gen­er­ally the long­est time work­ers can re­main truly en­gaged. They’ll likely re­gard their at­ten­dance at the meet­ing as a waste of time.

6.

Fol­low up. It’s quite com­mon for peo­ple to come away from the same meet­ing with very dif­fer­ent in­ter­pre­ta­tions of what went on. To re­duce this risk, email a memo high­light­ing what was ac­com­plished to all who at­tended within 24 hours af­ter the meet­ing is held. Doc­u­ment the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties given, tasks del­e­gated, and any as­signed dead­lines. they’ll likely re­gard their at­ten­dance at the meet­ing as a waste of time.

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