Stop Running Bad Meetings with These Tips

BY Kathy Crosett
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Are your team members dodging your meetings? Are your top performers always finding excuses to step out of your meetings? These behaviors are a clue that you need a new strategy. Check out these tips from Knowledge@Wharton on new ways to manage your meetings.

You know it’s bad when 8% of surveyed professionals would rather sit through a root canal than another status meeting. In a recent Harris/​Clarizen poll, U.S. adults reported spending 4.6 hours in meetings and 4.5 hours preparing for meetings, every week. With 25% of working time devoted to meetings, it’s time to ask which meetings are absolutely necessary and to look for ways to streamline the process.

Patrick Lencioni, an author and organizational efficiency expert, says one way to manage the meeting problem is to divide them by purpose. For example, to keep everyone on track during a particularly fast-​paced time, hold a 5–10 minute status meeting every morning. All participants should stand in a central area and come to the meeting with the expectation that this is a brief gathering. You, or another senior leader, should update everyone on the latest problems, or developments, if you’re close to launching a product. Or, you might also use this occasion to announce good news, like the addition of a large client.

Most U.S. workers are very familiar with the staff meeting. In some organizations, the staff meeting holds a sacred place on the calendar. The meeting is held even if there’s nothing specific to discuss. This situation is how meetings get a bad name. Even regular staff meetings require structure and organization. As the leader, you should send out an agenda. If necessary, assign tasks, or the responsibility of making a presentation, to key individuals. If you have nothing to discuss, or if the items on the list can wait another week, postpone the meeting.

Strategic meetings are the meat and bones of an organization’s direction. Research shows these gatherings often last only 15 minutes, but experts suggest spending a couple of hours in a huddle. Whether you are all in the conference room, or whether some of your members join using remote access software, a strategy meeting sets the direction on an important issue. Invite people who are clear thinkers and participate in meetings without taking over. Start the meeting by succinctly describing the problem you want to solve or the goal you want to achieve. Solicit feedback and discussion, but keep team members on track. Don’t let the meeting devolve into a general gripe session. Assign tasks to key participants to be sure progress is made before you meet again.

Companies should also hold quarterly or semi-​annual meetings to determine how they are doing toward stated goals. These meetings can also serve as a kick-​off for showcasing the goals you and your leadership team have developing for the coming quarter or year.

As you look at the meetings on your agenda for the next two weeks, can you put them into one of the categories discussed above? Are there meetings you can combine to save yourself and other team members some time? Lencioni suggests that team members should spend no more than 15% of their time sitting in meetings.

There’s no substitute for face-​to-​face communication. And, today’s technology allows you to meet virtually with an endless range of team members. To optimize your time, plan ahead, send out agendas, and follow up on action items assigned at the end of your last meeting.