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How to End Meetingitis at Your Company

Business.com / Insurance / Last Modified: July 5, 2018
Image credit: vectorfusionart/Shutterstock

Does your company have too many meetings? Here's how to make the most of your meetings so they engage your team and move your agenda forward.

Don't you love a long and boring meeting at work? I have spent a lot of my 30 years in business and government in such business meetings.  They are unnecessary, unproductive and unwise.

When I worked in Washington, DC, for a company with a contract with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). we used to joke that WMATA really stood for "We Meet and Talk a Lot."  We would have weekly and monthly meetings with our client's senior staff. Then we would hold our own staff meetings to prepare for the client meetings. Also, we held regular meetings with subcontractors, monthly safety meetings, driver meetings, quality assurance meetings, finance review meetings ... you get the drift. That’s why WMATA got the humorous moniker, ‘We Meet and Talk a Lot." 

Some of my other jobs had similar issues with "meetingitis" as I call it. At my county administrator position in Charles County, Maryland, and when I served as MTA Administrator/CEO, I usually went from morning to late afternoon with one meeting after another and literally no breaks except maybe for lunch. I had to schedule time with my assistant to schedule my time.

Is this how it's supposed to be?

Some meetings are necessary. A busy CEO might need a regular staff meeting. My staff meetings were for my direct reports to share updates on key issues, ask others for help with challenges and for me to provide intel and give clear directions with timelines. I also often met monthly with the senior and second level management team to share vision and provide leadership or management training.

If your organization suffers from meetingitis, try to reduce the number of meetings (or keep them as short as possible) with a clear, printed agenda and prepared presenters. If a meeting can be eliminated through sharing info in an email or by simply walking to several associates’ offices and getting the needed info, then do so.

If, however, a meeting is the best solution, below are my three secrets to holding an engaging, productive meeting, one that people actually look forward to attending.

1. Set everyone's expectations accordingly.

If your team meets weekly or monthly, be sure everyone knows what's expected of them. Can they give a three-minute update on their top three projects and share one major problem for group discussion? 

Make sure everyone knows to come prepared with handouts if necessary. Hold managers accountable if they are not prepared. Some embarrassment in front of their peers the first time they are not prepared usually ensures they are prepared for subsequent meetings. 

If it's a "one-off" meeting to discuss an urgent matter, you should have a printed agenda (even if it's handwritten on the whiteboard) with key items listed. Inform attendees up front what the meeting is about and what's expected from it. 

If the meeting is scheduled for an hour, keep it to that time unless it's absolutely necessary to go longer. 

2. Give assignments and provide a timeline for results. 

For example, "Tom, contact the city and find out if they are willing to waive their normal permit fees for placing a bus shelter at First and McCormick Streets. This shelter was requested through the mayor's office, so they should be willing to provide a fee waiver or pay it themselves. Please have the answer by our regular meeting next Friday or email it to me sooner if you can."

Too many leaders seem afraid or unwilling to clearly spell out what's expected and provide a deadline to their subordinates at staff meetings. Thus, these gatherings become simply a stagnant pond of reporting with no real stream of action coming from them. Many attendees leave such meetings feeling as though they've wasted their time. 

Meetings need to produce progress. You and your team should feel momentum coming out of each meeting with clear tasks, timelines, and direction, helping everyone stay focused on the key assignments needed to fulfill the mission of the agency.  

If you only make this one change, you will make your staff meetings much more useful and enjoyable for everyone. 

3.  Let everyone participate.

I've been part of meetings that lasted the better of a day that really only consisted of the boss asking individual staff members very specific questions that had little to do with the rest of the team members present. We all brought our laptops and busied ourselves with emails and reports waiting for our turn. Is this the most productive use of everyone's time? I think not. 

To keep your meetings interesting and relevant, let the others present participate. There is a time for executive direction, but it shouldn't dominate every meeting. When your team members can share what they are working on, it keeps them engaged and makes the senior executives more aware of what is really happening. 

While many meetings are an "occupational hazard" and needed for fully functioning teams, keep them productive and interesting by setting meeting expectations clearly, giving assignments with timelines and letting everyone participate.

Try it at your next meeting and see if you get better results.

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