Why Meetings Are Killing Your Organization

Monty Python has done skits about them. They have been a bottomless source of material for Scott Adams’ Dilbert cartoon, and most employees dread them – the venerable office meeting.

What is it about coming together with co-workers or as a leadership team that has become a time of dread?

Frankly most meetings are a massive waste of time. Because they waste time, they kill morale and create a drain on precious resources – time and money.

We can make more money. We can never get back lost time.

As a point of encouragement, this is not the way meetings go in all organizations. In fact, healthy organizations have many meetings. Rarely do their attendees consider them a waste of time. Why?

Patrick Lencioni does a great job explaining this in his book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business.

So, channeling my inner Patrick Lencioni, here are 5 tips to make your meetings meaningful.

1. The meetings are focused. They either deal with a strategic issue or a tactical issue, not both. Strategic issues deal with company, brand, and product positioning, can we and should we questions, and other choice or reaction topics. Tactical meetings deal with execution issues or in other words, the “how” issues.

Even when broken down into strategic and tactical, you should not try to boil the ocean in a single meeting. The purpose of the meeting should be clear and succinct.

2. Have more ad-hoc meetings. I know. This sounds counter-intuitive, but one of the reasons people hate the weekly staff meeting is that it all too often becomes an hour or two of people airing grievances against other departments, customers, or vendors. Doing this creates two issues. First, it slows down the ability of the organization to correct and move forward. Second, it undermines trust and actually encourages the siloing you are trying to minimize with the meeting. If you have ever been on the receiving end of one of these grievances you know what I mean. You think, why didn’t this person just come to me with this issue? Why are they sharing this in front of all these people when I would have gladly worked with them to fix it if they had just come to me? So, just go to the appropriate people when issues arise. Schedule an ad-hoc meeting and take care of it. Stop saving up all your junk for the weekly “team” meeting.

3. Invite the appropriate stakeholders for the discussion. Too often managers seem to gain a sense of importance from “holding court”. Most informational meetings are unnecessary. (I said most, not all.) Email is a great tool for getting out important information as is the organization’s internal blog or Sharepoint-type site. If you don’t have one, build one. They are cheap and effective. Once you train people where to look for the information they need, they will use it.

4. Create clarity about the deliverables and owners of each piece of the deliverables at the end of each meeting. This should include due dates.

5. Create clarity about what, if any, information needs to be disseminated throughout the organization as a result of the meeting. There needs to be agreement on the key points of the message and the timing of its delivery so that there is consistency in the information communicated across the organization.

6. Talk less and listen more. If you are doing over 50% of the talking in your meetings, you should question your motives. The purpose of a meeting is collaboration. Be sure and set an atmosphere of trust so that people will feel comfortable speaking up. Give people permission to raise issues or concerns. Think of yourself more as a facilitator, rather than a manager or team leader. If you don’t want the input of everyone in the room, why did you invite them?

These are simple concepts. The difficulty comes in putting them into practice with consistency. However, if you do, you will find your meetings are much more effective.

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