Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How to Avoid Death by Meetings

Have you ever fallen asleep during a meeting? You know the type of meeting I’m talking about. Someone talks for what seems like hours about a topic that has nothing to do with the project that needs discussing. Or, the meeting was progressing well and then somehow takes a detour and never gets back on track. Or, there is no agenda for the meeting. Did you know that these unpleasant meetings can be avoided? The solution can be simple: determine the meeting’s objective, assign a meeting organizer, create an agenda, and set start and end times for the meeting.

When someone has the task of organizing or coordinating a meeting, all of a sudden, there is meeting ownership. With ownership, the meeting assumes importance – it is not just a weekly meeting where people gather for coffee and conversation. With importance, there is an objective for the meeting. Something needs to be accomplished, and the management team or project team has determined that a gathering of a project’s contributors is the best way to accomplish the objective.

As a meeting organizer, know the purpose of your meeting. Have you assembled attendees to brainstorm and debate or just sit and listen? Is the meeting’s purpose to solve a tactical problem or a more significant strategic issue? Or share schedules or review weekly activities? Or discuss the competitive landscape or team development? Have you planned how to engage attendees in the first 5 or 10 minutes so that they understand the meeting’s objective and how they can best contribute? Don’t allow people to cause strife in the name of being a “devil’s advocate” – if challenging perspectives are discussed, make sure that there are reasons behind the perspectives. If time is not being spent wisely during the meeting, it is the organizer’s job to re-focus (e.g., someone talks and talks and talks – but not on point). While everyone may think a meeting is successful if it ends early, the true sign of a successful meeting is if it ends with clarity and commitment from attendees. Of course, if you want the meeting to end really quickly, you could remove all of the chairs from the room – just kidding. Lastly, keep track of commitments and next steps – don’t let people leave the meeting without stating the next steps.

As a meeting attendee, here are some ways to be more productive and engaged. Review the meeting agenda in advance and prepare questions at the beginning of the meeting. Make sure that administrative, tactical, and strategic aspects of a project are all discussed. Don’t assume any aspects of a project – this is when errors and miscommunication can occur. If time constraints end a meeting early, follow up with the meeting organizer or project leader with any unanswered questions.

While meetings are part of everyone’s business life, perhaps, we should think of them as adventures. Sometimes, we encounter something new and learn, but in the process, we are fully awake and engaged.

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