If you hate meetings, you’re in good company. In interviews with hundreds of executives in fields ranging from high tech and retail to pharmaceuticals and consulting, many executives told Harvard Business Review they felt overwhelmed by meetings. One said, “I cannot get my head above water to breathe during the week,” while another “described stabbing her leg with a pencil to stop from screaming during a particularly torturous staff meeting.”3 Let that image sink in for a second.
Studies actually back up these anecdotes, too. The reality is that 50 percent of meeting participants feel meetings are unproductive, and an astounding 73 percent of employees do other work during meetings2. So things are getting done in meetings… like your coworker’s March Madness bracket.
But are meetings really the problem?
The short answer? No. Meetings are only as effective – or problematic – as the people running them1. Meetings aren’t prepackaged to run themselves; people need to learn how to run meetings effectively, otherwise you end up with unproductive meetings that make people want to stab their legs with pencils.
So how do you learn how to run meetings more effectively? You start with these 5 must-have tips for people who hate meetings, which you get you on the road to hating meetings just a little bit less:
1. Agree on Why You’re All There
Seems like common sense, right? But how many times did you think you were meeting about next year’s budget, but Douglas over there starts talking about performance indicators for a new ad campaign? Before you know it, the meeting is over, and you’ve half-discussed both topics and made zero decisions. Thanks, Doug.
Truthfully, it’s not just Doug’s fault. It’s everyone’s responsibility to help define the objectives of the meeting and to hold each other accountable for sticking to those objectives. Agree on why you’re meeting, what you want to accomplish, and stick to your objective with laser focus. If anyone tries to be a Doug, shut ’em down. In an HR-friendly way, of course.
2. Establish a Parking Lot
This one’s for the Dougs out there. Each meeting comes with side topics, tangents, personal detours and other distractions. Your “parking lot” is where you stash all that unrelated chatter for another day. Drive ’em right in there, put ’em in park, and turn off the engine because they are not going anywhere today.
This is how you keep your meeting on track. There are going to be topics that’ll come up that are important, but they’ll be out of scope for that day’s objective. Put them in the parking lot so you remember to discuss them later.
3. Have Decision-Making Resources On-Hand
Verbally presenting information to your decision-makers only does half the job because they can’t fully process all those reports and data that you’re spouting at them. The result? They’re going to ask you to send them all that information after the meeting, but they’ll end up not having time to look at all that information, so the decision you were looking for by the end of the meeting will get delayed.
So how do you get that decision by the end of the meeting? Gather your decision-making data – reports, historical presentations, etc. – and have it ready to distribute during the meeting. And, remember, this doesn’t necessarily mean printed paper. There’s lots of technology out there that can help you easily distribute your meeting materials to attendees’ devices, whether they’re in the room with you, attending remotely, or attending in a completely different time zone. There’s even technology available that can help you distribute materials in various languages, helping you bridge together groups from different cultures. Some tools also allow you to easily share, review and edit materials in real time. The meeting world is your oyster!
4. Let Your Team Participate Anywhere
Nowadays, most teams are dispersed, so you don’t want to meddle with their mojo by forcing them to travel to the office for meetings. Your meetings will be way more effective if you account for how to handle situations when everyone can’t be in the same room.
One of the primary features to look for in a remote participation tool is that it offers one-click access that essentially gets everyone set up and collaborating really quickly. We all know the pain of old remote collaboration systems that force you to waste the first 20 minutes of a meeting while you’re trying to get everyone “on the line”. There’s a couple people troubleshooting, then you’re calling IT, and after 15 minutes, you finally get them on or agree to just catch them up later. Meanwhile, everyone is updating their March Madness brackets or Pinterest boards. One-click access systems get you going much faster and avoid that lost productivity.
5. Don’t Leave without Action Items
Ever notice there’s a lot of talking at meetings, but not a whole lot of follow-through happens afterward? Did you expect everyone else to do what was decided during the meeting? Yeah, so did everyone else. Oh, the chilling power of assumptions.
Everyone already has a zillion action items on their plates, so if tasks aren’t actually assigned during meetings, those tasks just aren’t getting done. Period. As you and your team make your way through each decision point during a meeting, make sure that decisions, actions and next steps are documented for easy summary after the meeting. Assign an owner to each action item so someone is held accountable for every single one.
Once your meeting is over, make sure every attendee has a way to take that documentation with them through whatever collaboration tool you’re using. It’s best to use a digital collaboration tool rather than a whiteboard than can just get erased and keep confidential information secure, but whatever you use, make sure everyone has documentation from the meeting so there’s no confusion over what results came from the meeting.
With the right tools and techniques, you don’t have to hate meetings anymore. They can actually be a place of collaboration and camaraderie, where real innovation can take place. Start with these 5 tips, and your meetings will soon start to run much more smoothly and effectively – with no desire to stab your leg with a pencil!