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Do Your Meetings Drive You Forward – or Dog-gone Crazy?

I really don’t even hate to admit it–most meetings I attend, I wish I were somewhere else.  I’m the guy you’ll find looking at my phone, staring at the clock, emailing people about a pending project.

Meetings can be invaluable in driving the progress of an organization, but mostly they just drive you crazy.

People are fond of saying that meetings are pointless, and that’s just not true–there’s a point to the meeting or nobody would be there.  The point of the meeting is often important–it’s just that it’s five minutes of  conclusions and actions buried in an hour and a half of rabbit holes and dead ends.

Meetings are slow, inefficient, often with a series of long monologues designed to color what’s happening in the organization–with no clear pathway forward.  But when they do what they’re supposed to do, meetings create focus, energy, collaborative problem solving, clarity of direction and commitment.  And those are things its hard to achieve through email or slack alone.

If There Were a Senior Vice President of Meetings, They’d Get Fired!

If there were a senior vice president in charge of a meetings department, they’d get fired!   Management would hit the roof, clean house, and get rid of everyone because of costs and inefficiency. The cost of one hour of a meeting is anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000 depending on who is in the room, their average hourly wage and loss of productivity.

Successful Meetings Depend on Team Alignment–Why Are We in this Meeting?!

If you research how to have a better meeting, you’ll come up with the advice to have better agendas and preparation.   That’s important, but it’s not the reason that people arrive at a meeting already checked out.

The real reason meetings are Ineffective and boring is the lack of alignment between the people running them and the people sitting in the room.

Here are the true points on how to run a better meeting:

  1. Begin with “who called this meeting and why?”  Immediately aligning people who attend around the purpose of the meeting should be the first item on the agenda–with the opportunity for discussion and feedback.Did I get a calendar invite I couldn’t turn down?–my body may be in the chair but you can’t compel my mind to be present.  The first job of the meeting leader is to explain the purpose of the meeting and to recruit those attending to a conviction that it’s important they be there.  Team members must climb out of their individual silos to a meeting of aligned purpose.
  2. Team members must be aligned in their understanding of what’s at stake in the outcome.   Team members come from high voltage jobs where they understand why what they’re doing is important.  They then walk into a meeting with predictable agenda items and outcome–and their minds shift into neutral.  The team leader must present both the opportunity and the threat–we must all hang together or separately.   Only when team members feel what’s at stake will they be part of the meeting.
  3. Make the Meeting about the Mission.  Align every item of the agenda to how it contributes to the mission.  I really like Google’s mission statement, “to provide access to the world’s information in one click.” Google employees live their vision and reflect it in their meetings, emails, and actions.
  4. Make meetings about aligned deployment–not about static reports.  Meetings are excruciatingly boring because they are often static reports–not planning sessions for the battle to win.  Revenues up, revenues down, project on time or lagging.  Each agenda item needs a call to action and a person assigned with a mission to move the mission forward.

Patrick Lencioni wrote a great book called Death by Meetings. Lencioni portrays a company dying from meetings where people were always coming late and skipping if they can find an excuse.  Lencioni says that every meeting should be like a movie with a good plot, crisis, and triumph.  I have always followed that meeting model all my life.  If I sense that interest is lagging in attending a meeting, I put an item on the agenda that is designed to scare or excite.  It’s the very opposite of the philosophy that meetings should be designed to run their course without controversy or drama.

Almost every organization goes through moments of huge progress and death spirals.   Drama is the reality of the organizational world we live in, and our meetings should chart the agony of defeat and the exuberance  of winning.  So don’t commit meeting homicide.  Make meetings powerful, exciting, and effective through aligning them with a common cause.

Drop me a line and tell me about how meetings work…or don’t work…in your organization.  I’d love to hear your experience.

Austin, Texas

Santa Fe, New Mexico

(512) 498-9780

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