It would fair to say that all of us regard meetings as the washing up of business – you know it has to be done but no-one enjoys doing it. “What did you do at work today?” Answer: “I was in meetings all day”. This is rarely said with a smile on the lips. Every now and again you have a ‘good meeting’ which means a) you felt it accomplished something and b) it did not seem to take too long. But that is the exception rather than the rule. Well, here is a simple approach to improving most of the meetings in which you find yourself. It addresses two of the most important things that causes meetings to be ‘bad – i.e. don’t accomplish anything, take too long.
Firstly, people talking at cross purposes; secondly, poor time management. Here’s how it works.
You can divide anything you do in a meeting into 4 headings:-
- Information download – someone has to let everybody know something about something e.g. the results of some recent test programme.
- Information receiving – someone needs to hear back from everyone about something e.g. the results in their department of some recent initiative.
- Problem solving – there is an issue which needs to be discussed, people need to share their views, make suggestions and in some form or another think creatively e.g. the last initiative failed, what are we going to do about it?
- Decision making – the meeting has to decide something e.g. whether to make a particular investment.
What goes wrong is that it is never made clear under what heading an item falls. You think you are just giving an information download. I think you want a big discussion about it and offer lots of creative suggestions about what you should do next. You have a problem that you need help with. I think you are just feeding back information. The meeting rambles on aimlessly with far too much time spent on simple/low priority items and far too little spent on more complex and/or important issues.
So the first step is to indicate clearly exactly which heading an item on the agenda falls under and allocate ownership of that item to someone.
The second step is then to agree in advance what time is required for each item. Simple information giving should not take more than 10 minutes but Problem solving will take longer. By organizing the agenda clearly and allocating time realistically you can use the time in the meeting much more productively.
This is not theory – it has been proven to work. Just try it for a few meetings and see the results. It will feel like you just bought your first dishwasher and doing the dishes will never be a chore again.