I must rant about meetings. Leaders talk all the time about efficiency and productivity and the bottom line.  Everyone talks about how busy we all are.  Yet the long slow death of time-sucking, useless meetings continues in American business.

Case:  The Update Meeting

This is a common meeting billed as a time for team members to share their wins, problems, and questions. In one organization, the meeting leader calls it a “collaborative problem-solving meeting.”  This could be a productive, solutions-focused meeting. Alas, in reality it is an hour of serial reports meaningful only to the reporter and the boss.  The other “participants” wait their turn, working on something else during the other reports.  When called on by surprise, the response is, “Sorry, I forgot to take myself off mute.”

In another organization, the two highest ranking people in the meeting do all the talking.  The other “participants” are not given a chance to provide an “update.”  And the meeting almost always runs over.

Last example.  Instead of updating, the participants complain that other team members have not (fill in the blank).  In this wild display of passive-aggressiveness, the complainers talk long yet vaguely, and the accused are criticized if they say, “I did provide (that thing from fill in the blank).”

Bosses!  Do you call a “problem solving meeting” when what you should be doing is having one-on-ones?  Do you do all the talking?  Do you have an agenda that is simply a list of topics – or no agenda at all? Do you allow nasty comments, long talkers, running over the end time, or other meeting tomfoolery?

Whoever called the meeting has the responsibility to set it up and facilitate it so it’s a good use of everyone’s time.  If you’re not doing this, it’s hitting your bottom line because wasted time is wasted money.

Here are some tips to clean it up:

1.    Have a clear purpose for every meeting.  HINT: Going around the room and having each person talk about what they are working on is one of the worst types of meetings.  How about group brainstorming to solve a problem that affects the group?  Or planning the next initiative?  Or debriefing an event?

2.    Think about who REALLY needs to be in the meeting.  Then think about how you want them to come prepared (e.g., “Come prepared with some ideas about a process for new customer onboarding”).  Then decide how you will facilitate each topic (e.g. brainstorming, methodical problem solving, etc.)

3.    Have an agenda that supports the purpose and guides the participants’ interactions. Rather than simply listing topics and timeframes, spell out the way the group with deal with each topic. HINT:  If your agenda is…

Topic:  XXXX / Time: 15 Minutes / How:  Boss Talks

Topic:  YYYY / Time: 15 minutes / How: Boss Talks

Well, you get the point.

4.    Make agreements and next steps before closing the meeting.  Get a volunteer to summarize the agreements and send to all participants.

Good meetings jump-start positive action. Bad meetings suck the life out of your human resources. There’s no reason for any more bad meetings.

I can help.