We’ve all attended meetings that were a big waste of time. Employees are restless—or even ”resting their eyes,” like the gentleman above. My experiences usually involved co-workers writing snarky notes about the presenters or how their time would be better spent.
There are a lot of ways meetings can go wrong, but as a manager, you have control of many of them. Check your meeting behaviors against the following list, and make changes if you’re guilty of any of these sins:
- Meeting for the sake of meeting. Don’t fall into the rut of scheduling a marketing meeting for Tuesday at 1 p.m. simply because you always have a marketing meeting on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. If all you want is a brief update on each attendee’s status, ask for it via email; then compile the list and distribute it as necessary. Another option: Set up a team or project wiki for updates. Think of meetings as a last resort; schedule them only when you can’t come up with a better way to reach your objectives.
- Including people who don’t need to be there. Invite only those people who can contribute or who will benefit—preferably those who will do both. If you’re requiring team members who don’t have anything to contribute to the meeting or who won’t benefit from the information shared, they—understandably—will be bored and frustrated. Their negativity can then spread through the rest of your attendees. Remember: A one hour meeting with 10 employees doesn’t cost one hour of productivity; it costs 10. Note: Make an exception to the rule for limiting attendance to include interns and new hires. Though they might not have information to share yet and won’t be using the material immediately, they’ll benefit from learning about your organization, processes and team.
- Holding attendees hostage. If you need someone to hear or discuss one topic, dismiss him or her once you have covered that topic. If you’re lucky enough to finish ahead of schedule, end the meeting early. Just because you have an extra 25 minutes doesn’t mean you should drone on or attempt to cover unrelated material. Team members will be annoyed that you are “punishing” them for their efficiency. Plus, they may not be prepared to discuss your new topic.
- Not issuing an agenda. A meeting without an agenda is like a ship without a compass; there’s no telling where it’s headed. Before scheduling your meeting, take some time to think about your goals. What do you intend to accomplish? Who will be responsible for covering which items? How long will you devote to each item? Email your agenda and any background materials to all participants a few days before the meeting—earlier if you are requiring a good deal of preparation from attendees.
- Depending on Outlook’s default scheduling. Calendar programs such as Outloook’s automatically schedule 30-minute chunks for all appointments. You can reset the time scale in Outlook to as little as 5 minutes. (In Outlook 2010 you will find the setting under the View tab.) When you send meeting invitations, include the start and ending times.
- Talking the entire time. If you’re not sharing the responsibility of leading the meeting, you’re making a big mistake. Lecturing to your attendees is condescending; plus, you won’t benefit from your team members’ skills and expertise. Delegate items on the agenda to specific attendees (make that assignment clear when you issue the agenda), and assign one brainstorming task to all attendees. Example: Everyone is responsible for identifying one way to improve our social media efforts.
- Giving attendees free reign. Micromanaging is a problem, but stepping completely out of your leadership role isn’t acceptable either. If one attendee is taking the meeting off on a tangent, step in to redirect everyone back to the agenda. Example: “Michael, that’s worth looking into, so let’s schedule another time to devote to it. I’d like to get back to our objective here: the Johnson project. Sandra, what do you need from us to get that rolling?”
- Letting bad apples spoil it for everyone. Two personality types can ruin a good meeting: nonstop talkers and chronic complainers. Know your team members and who is likely to be a problem. If you have a nonstop talker on your team, issue 2-minute time limits for comments, questions and answers. If you have a negative person who just wants to complain, ask for solutions. Example: “How do you suggest we avoid that issue, Theresa?” (Learn how to deal with the six most common kinds of disruptive behavior with Leading 20-Minute Meetings That Matter.)
- Choosing inopportune times to meet. Don’t schedule a meeting right before a big deadline, unless team members need the information presented for their most pressing project. Avoid Mondays and Fridays, because they’re the most popular vacation days, and team members who are available are likely catching up from the weekend or trying to wrap up work for the weekend ahead. You can meet in the mornings or the afternoons, but be aware that some attendees might show up underprepared if you schedule a meeting for first thing in the morning.
- Leaving without a definite plan. If you end a meeting without first drawing up clear action items, you might as well have skipped the whole thing. Without set assignments, attendees will quickly forget what the team accomplished in the meeting, and even the best ideas will go to waste. At the conclusion of each item on the agenda, determine the next step by answering this three part question: Who is responsible for what by when? Distribute the meeting minutes, including an assignments list, within 24 hours of the meeting.
What’s your biggest meeting pet peeve?