Meeting Madness

What is your first reaction when someone makes the statement,  “Let’s have a meeting about that”?   If you’re like most people, the reaction is not very positive.  It's somewhere along the line of mild displeasure to major angst!

It used to be presumed that if you weren't at your desk working, you weren't working,  But we said,  'Why can't we make a workplace where casual meetings are as important as working at your desk?'   Sometimes that's where your better creative work happens.

David Chipperfield

“I’m too busy!”   While you’re sitting in the meeting, all you can think about is all of the “real work” that isn’t getting done.   “Why can’t we ever start/end these things on time?”   Related to the “busy” element, it’s even worse when you’re sitting there, waiting to get started (tick, tock, tick, tock…) or being held hostage as the meeting drones on after its scheduled end.   “Why am I in here?”   You realize shortly into the meeting that there is nothing you can contribute, or learn, from the proceedings taking place.   See earlier “being held hostage” feeling.

As you study those emotions listed above, you realize that the common thread is related to time – and the fact that it is finite – and the work you have to get done seems like anything but finite. Time, as Benjamin Franklin said, is money. Subsequently, wasted time is wasted money. Everyone has a lot to do and meetings – like them or not – are often a necessary evil to create information (brainstorm, collaborate, plan), share information (knowledge disbursement), or make use of information (decision making.) The trick comes in doing it in an efficient manner and respecting the time of everyone involved.

So, how can we tame this tiger that is “the meeting”?   Like so many things, I believe it’s important for everyone in an organization to be on the same page and working with the same premises and guidelines. In many companies these days, a number of team members will have worked in different environments and cultures, ending up with a potpourri of approaches and opinions regarding many areas… not the least of which concerns meetings and meeting etiquette.   Some folks come from a culture that is very meeting-centric – every issue requires a meeting (or a series of meetings) to address a given situation.   Others have the opposite experience of having to attend meetings rarely.   It takes a while for an organization to develop its own culture and “style”, if you will.

What I’d like to do in the remainder of this piece is offer some suggestions regarding “Meeting Rules” that could help an organization to have a common understanding of what meetings should look like and what is considered acceptable meeting behavior. These rules and guidelines can be adopted to help create a better, more efficient organization.

Rule #0 Always ask yourself before scheduling the meeting, “Is a meeting really necessary?”   Is this the most efficient way to plan/share/make a decision in this situation?

Rule #1 Only invite those people who are absolutely vital to the task at hand.   Everyone in the room should know why they are there and what they are expected to contribute.

Rule #2 Create an agenda (however brief it may be) and include it in the invitation to the meeting.   If the meeting is set up many days or weeks in advance, then make sure the agenda is made available no less than 24 hours before the meeting time.   This helps ensure focus during the meeting and aids in the prevention of meeting-creep and rabbit trails.

Rule #3 All meetings need to be scheduled at least 24 hours in advance.   While there will be the rare need to throw something together quickly, if you are paying attention, this should be an easy one to adhere to. I’m reminded of that saying, “A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”   When someone leaves the office for the day, they should have a very clear picture of what their next day is going to look like.   This allows for more effective personal planning and time-management.

Rule #4 Start and end the meetings on time. It’s really very simple, however I feel compelled to make a couple of further comments here. We’ve all had these excuses of, “well, the time on my phone/computer/watch says…”, but at any given time, it is only ONE time and it can be found here (http://tycho.usno.navy.mil/estclock.html) if there is any confusion.   Also, it does not matter who is or is not there.   That is, there should be no waiting around for the last person(s) to arrive.   That just makes those who arrived on time feel as if their time is less valuable, as well as trains everyone that being late is acceptable behavior.   It is not.

Rule #5 There shall be a financial consequence to the meeting organizer if the meeting starts late or runs long.   This is how we make sure that Rule #4 is adhered to.   Think of it like a “cuss jar”! Here is what I propose… for every five minute period that a meeting starts late or runs long, the meeting organizer is “charged” a $1 fee per person in attendance.   For example, if the meeting runs one minute late and there are four people in the room, the fee takes effect and the organizer owes $4. At minute six, the second dollar round kicks in.   I would suggest that the funds be collected and held by an agreed upon, trusted party.   Upon reaching a suitable balance, the fund can be used for some sort of company-wide event.

Rule #6 If, in the event that a meeting might require more time than originally planned, attendees can choose to stay (thus eliminating the “fee” for the organizer), but will also be free to go if their schedule necessitates. If the meeting is extended however, there shall be a fixed length of time that all remaining attendees agree to.

Rule #7 Upon completion of the meeting, each attendee should be clear about what, if any, next steps are required of them.  Many times it will be necessary for the meeting organizer, or their designee, to “publish” meeting notes following the meeting to summarize the discussion and guarantee clarity regarding any potential follow-ups.

While this list could certainly be longer, I believe that if you are able to adhere to just these standards, everyone will feel like they are being more efficient with their time, that their time is being respected by fellow team members and that everyone is generally being more effective in their jobs. I would also expect that you will be getting more work done, more efficiently, thus making you more valuable to your clients, customers and stakeholders.

~ Bud Sanders

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