12 April 2009

Meetings -- the Silent Killers

If you are like most people, much of your day is taken up by meetings. And, when you really dissect the amount of time you spend in meetings, can you determine how much of that time was well spent?

I've spent a good deal (of productive) time trying to deal with this issue in my own situation. I've shared this with my colleagues. Below are my thoughts.


• People are very busy.
• Meetings represent a sizable percentage of our busy days.
• Meetings are often too large.
• Meetings are often unproductive.


Meetings need to be tightly controlled – the agenda should be set in advance; not everything is fair game – if it wasn’t expected to be discussed, it shouldn’t. People need to arrive on time and meetings need to be completed on time. Cell phone calls should not be accepted. Any follow up items and decisions from the meeting need to be documented.

Preparation is key – all meetings should have a known purpose. EVERYONE who will participate in the meeting should come prepared. If there is information that will be discussed in the meeting it should be disseminated in advance. If people are not prepared, the meeting should be postponed.

Meetings are for decisions – Meetings should not be show and tell – That was for elementary school. Unless a meeting is to a large group and specifically designed for mass dissemination of information, necessary information should be disseminated in advance so that it can be read and digested prior to the meetings. Meetings should become less presentation and more decision making. This should speed along the process.

Reduce the number of participants – In my opinion, the most important meetings are one-on-ones. This is where you really connect, where you can direct feedback and where you can actually understand how the other party is feeling about the topic. When the number of people grow, the communication generally gets worse. It’s been said that your ability to get each person in a meeting to understand the information discussed goes down by the square of the number of participants. So if you have five people in a meeting it is 25 times more difficult. Think of a meeting with 10 people, where it is 100 times more difficult. Having people who are not critical to the meeting (not just who will be impacted by the meeting) participate usually explodes the scope and expands the agenda, waters down the communication, or just wastes time.

Everything should not be fair game in every meeting - Just because people are together in a room does not mean they should discuss whatever they needed to raise with that person. That happens better in one on ones. Group discussions need to be limited to the specific topic and only to things that critically matter to that topic.

It’s OK to hurt someone’s feelings by not including them in a meeting – When it comes to meetings, titles and positions should not matter. Meetings should be focused on accomplishing a goal. People who are needed to create that solution should attend. Everyone else should be happy not to be burdened.

Follow-up is critical – If the meeting was important enough to have, it was important enough to document. Certainly any critical decisions that were made in the meeting, and ideas that were uncovered, or any follow-up items and commitments made, should be documented. If this is a regularly scheduled meeting, then this summary should be discussed at the start of the subsequent meeting and people who committed to follow-ups should discuss the completion (or not) of their committed actions.

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