Make Meetings Matter

By Jeri Mae Rowley

Ninety percent of managers report that half of the meetings they attend are
“either unnecessary or a complete waste of time.”

When I am sitting in a meeting, I habitually calculate the “cost” of holding that meeting. You can too. Begin with the hourly wage and benefits dollars per participant. Then, add the estimated “opportunity costs.” Opportunity costs are the value of what meeting participants could have been producing/ selling/creating/saving—and who could they have been serving—if they weren’t in the meeting. These are just two of the many “costs of holding a meeting.”
Any meetings we hold need to result in benefits that exceed the investment of time and talent made to attend. Meetings need to “matter.” Recent research reveals the strong need to improve meeting planning, leadership and participation:

• An estimated 10 million business meetings take place in the United States every day.

• Most middle managers spend 30 percent of their time in meetings.

• Top management will spend up to 80 percent of their work week in meetings.

• Professionals typically attend a total of 61.8 meetings per month.

• 90% of managers report that half of the meetings they attend are “either unnecessary or a complete waste of time.”

• 73% of meeting attendees say they brought other work to meetings.

• 39% admit to “dozing off” during meetings.

Researchers also found a strong, direct relationship between meeting effectiveness and employee job attitudes. If you are ready to plan and participate in meetings that matter, begin with these ten questions. Try them…you’ll like them:

Meetings that Matter

1. Why are we meeting? State the purpose of what you plan to accomplish in this single meeting. As Stephen Covey says, “Begin with the End in Mind.”
2. Who should attend? Invite only the participants who are needed and can make a significant contribution to the meeting objective.
If the purpose of the meeting is to share information, everyone who needs the information could be invited to listen to the presentation.
If the purpose of the meeting is decision making, try to limit the number of participants to ten or less (five to seven is ideal.) People can’t fully contribute in decision making if there are too many participants.
3. When and where should we meet? Based on your responses to the first two questions, determine what time and place best suit the accomplishment of your purpose. Campbell’s Soup once had a Board meeting in the back room of a grocery store and then sent Board members out to mingle with the customers to get feedback on products.
4. What do we need before the meeting? Every meeting must have an agenda. (If you aren’t willing to take time to think about an agenda—don’t subject people to attending your “thoughtless” meeting.) Circulate the agenda; and pertinent meeting preparation materials, before the meeting so participants arrive prepared.
5. How long should we meet? Meet only as long as it takes to accomplish the purpose. An article in Industry Week magazine suggested meetings last no more than 29 minutes and 59 seconds!
6. How should we design the meeting? Meeting design includes time, space, room set up, audio visual, agenda, as well as decision making and communications processes. Design your meeting with a focus on achieving the purpose of the meeting and creating a synergistic environment.
7. Does everybody understand their role in the meeting? In the book How to Make Meetings Work, authors Doyle and Straus introduced the Interaction Meeting Method with clearly defined roles for facilitator, leader, participant and recorder. Their meeting roles were designed for meetings where open idea sharing, honest discussion, and creative problem solving and decision making were needed.
8. How can we stay on track? Have an agenda with allocated time, process, and person(s) responsible for each agenda item.
To minimize interruptions, have an agenda with breaks identified. This allows participants to let their staff know when they will be available to return calls or respond to questions. A great ground rule for meetings is that “no one will be interrupted during the meeting for anything they would not get in their car and drive 100 miles to take care of.”
Use one flip chart to track non-agenda ideas that come up. Label the chart “we’ll get back to it” or “parking lot.” At the end of the meeting, use this list to build your next agenda.
9. How will we know if the meeting was effective? Throughout the meeting, gather assignments, deadlines and accomplishments on a flip chart that all participants can see. You could call this a “time and action calendar.” Review the calendar at the end of the meeting to send the troops off with a clear idea of what was accomplished at this meeting and what needs to be done.
Evaluate every meeting to evaluate meeting planning, processes, participation and outcomes.
10. Should we meet again? Review the “purpose” “parking lot” and “time and action calendar” to determine the “if, when, where, who, and how” of a future meeting. Then, it’s back to question one and proceed to design your next effective meeting.
If we’re going to spend so much of our time in meetings, and if meetings are necessary to get important work done, let’s resolve to make the meetings we lead really matter.