American economist and social theorist, Thomas Sowell, once said, “People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.”
He, like the rest of us, had obviously wasted countless hours on ‘brainstorming’, ‘thinking out of the box’ and ‘considering the low-hanging fruit’ while eating stale pastries around a boardroom table, and decided that enough was enough. So he made a quote and it was written into internet lore and thenceforth, it was decreed that meetings – and anyone who revels in holding them – be regarded with the most dubious of caution.
Of course, face-to-face sessions are a fundamental part of work life. That’s unavoidable. But the key is in how many, how often, and how effective they are. “The companies that are best at decisions have learned to manage meetings as carefully as they manage any other part of their businesses,” says Bain Insights for Forbes.com.
Look around the room during your next meeting. How many people are actually integral to what’s happening? Is the meeting itself even integral to the bigger picture? You’re not achieving greatness simply because you’re wedged into a boardroom with pots of coffee and a bunch of suits. The trick to holding fewer meetings actually begins with having more effective meetings. Get that right, and naturally you’ll have less of them.
“Meetings matter because that’s where an organization’s culture perpetuates itself. Meetings are how an organization says, ‘You are a member.’ So if every day we go to boring meetings full of boring people, then we can’t help but think that this is a boring company. Bad meetings are a source of negative messages about our company and ourselves,” says The Seven Sins of Deadly Meetings.
Slash time spent in meetings, like this:
- Make sure every single attendee absolutely must be there. If you’re not sure, give the ‘maybes’ a head’s up about the meeting and let them know you may pull them in briefly if necessary (and if they’re available).
- Make meetings about decisions. No ‘word storming sessions’, no ‘thought showers’. Ensure every meeting is about coming to a decision and cull any that isn’t.
- Have an agenda and stick to it – this includes a fixed time limit that’s strictly adhered to.
- Outline goals at the start of the meeting. Anything that isn’t directly related to the goal may be tabled, but not discussed.
- Implement the foot rule: anyone who doesn’t believe they’re adding value to a meeting is free to leave at any time. There’s no penalty for this.
- No mobile phones; no laptops. Make notes on a board or using Post-its, and take a photo afterwards to share the with relevant parties. The only exception to the no-tech rule is when it’s required for presentations.
If you found these tips helpful, share them with your staff or your network, or let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear from you.