Meetings, meetings, meetings! When will they ever end?!
Just like you, I've suffered the brutal punishment of endless, unproductive meetings. My coworkers and I used to joke that "sales were down but meetings were up" because of the onslaught of gatherings.
Pre-meetings help us get prepared, post-mortem meetings help us assess our meetings, offsite meetings help us bond, all-day meetings help us focus and multi-day meetings help us tackle big topics. Ugg!
It's painful isn't it? According to Lencioni's book, excessive meetings can even be DEADLY.
So what is the deal? Why do we continue the cycle of horrible meetings?
Here are 3 reasons for terrible meetings (and what you can do to stop the madness).
Reason #1 - Isolated Tribes
Jack Bergstrand, in his book Reinvent Your Enterprise, describes the functions in large organizations as frequently becoming tribes that band together to accomplish their given purpose. A common risk in these cases is that these functional areas can become separated from the corporate identity and productivity is lost. Enter the meeting zone!
When disconnected i.e. "silo-ed" departments must work together meetings will abound. Additional participants are needed to be sure no one feels left out. Scheduling is a chore because of conflicting priorities. Commitment is low because of warring factions.
Solutions for this kind of situation don't come easily but are well worth the effort and requires top-level commitment to unifying the organization. Ultimate change will happen as the top executives begin to work together in a clarified and unified way that encourages collaboration but also high levels of productivity. As an intolerance for wasting valuable time starts to become reality, culture will shift. But cultural change is a lengthy and difficult process.
In the meantime, middle managers must do what they can to:
1) Influence vertically - use your power and position as a positive voice for change. Carefully wage war against disunity and isolation by offering creative and innovative solutions that bring about more productive meetings.
2) Bridge the gaps horizontally - do this by building strong relationships with co-managers and begin a coalition for change between your departments. When other department heads see a difference in your productivity they will be more inspired to move in the same direction.
3) Lead by example - your staff needs to see that progress begins with you before they will buy into the vision of unity. Start the ball rolling, stay consistent and lead with integrity.
Reason #2 - Leaders Who Don't Empower
How many times have you been in your office listening to someone gripe about a problem and conclude the best way to solve this is with.....A MEETING? It looks something like this...
Employee - Comes in the boss' office (again)..."Sorry for that last string of emails, I didn't know Kevin was going to get involved and call that side meeting."
Boss - "I'm tired of all the emails and drop-in meetings about this. Let's get in a room with everyone involved and knock this out in a meeting. We're wasting time here."
Employee - "OK, I'll schedule it on everyone's calendar for next week."
Next, the Boss holds a meeting with everyone to ferret out the issues and work to reach some consensus. What's wrong with this?
When this is the pattern in an organization, there are at least three negative implications:
1) It increases dependence on the Boss. An already busy executive becomes distracted from mission critical, growth inducing initiatives in favor of spending time mending fences and addressing productivity drains.
2) It restricts or hinders the managers and staff rather than empowers them. This can breed incompetence because it ensures the staff don't learn to reconcile and solve problems themselves.
3) It discourages and frustrates those who get called into the meeting to waste MORE time talking about issues rather than solving or preventing them.
To mitigate this risk, appropriate delegation of responsibilities and effective coaching to empower are two essential skills that must be practiced. Leaders can help by training and coaching managers to communicate effectively and manage time wisely. Doing this will benefit the managers and staff and eventually reduce the number of meetings required to get results.
Reason #3 - Poor Meeting Leadership
To be blunt, terrible meetings happen because the person leading the meeting, doesn't have what it takes to lead it. I'm not suggesting that the person is incompetent but more often is untrained or low standards are the norm. Skills are obtained through training and perfected through practice. Learning how to lead a meeting, takes skills! Doing it consistently requires leadership maintain high standards to prevent staff from become too relaxed about their meetings.
Common signs that you're suffering from poor leadership over your meetings include:
- Lots of rabbit trails.
- No action items (or no follow up to ensure the action items get completed).
- The wrong people are in the meeting and key decision makers are not present to make real progress.
- Confusion as to meeting purpose or structure.
- Many more!
There are myriads of ways to improve in this area but progress won't happen until those calling the meetings are trained and held accountable for productive meetings. As a company leader, consider offering supervisory training courses and even role playing for your new managers. As with anything, leading by example is the first and best way to instill these expectations in your organization.
There is HOPE
I've seen some very well run meetings so I know it is possible! But effective meetings don't happen without applying intentional effort and force in that direction. Tackling the issue of terrible meetings in your company has a great chance of increasing productivity, reducing costs and boosting morale.
Next time it's your turn to lead a meeting, start with determining whether you really need the meeting in the first place. But if you must have a meeting, lead it like a BOSS! Everyone involved will thank you for it.