It is clear that many leaders in most organizations would report they participate in or lead too many meetings that don’t accomplish the intended or desired results. In today’s mostly virtual meeting rooms, Zoom fatigue is a result of more than just staring at a screen. Ask almost anyone in any organization and you will likely hear some version of the following meeting laments:
- “All I do is sit in meetings.”
- “If you want to know about ineffective meetings, follow me for a day!”
- “We even have meetings on meetings.”
- “Surely some other organization has figured this out!”
If meetings are so ineffective, is the solution to shorten them or cut them out of organizational life all together? After all, the inimitable management guru Peter Drucker once quipped that meetings are a symptom of a bad organization. Was he right?
With all due respect to Dr. Drucker, the world has changed and organizational cultures and structures will continue to evolve such that the need to meet to collaborate, communicate, and cross-pollinate is greater than ever. We need to foster inclusion, innovation, psychological safety, and trust and that must be done in conversation with one another. In today’s global, virtual, flatter, more complex, and ever-changing world, “command and control,” “our leader knows all” cultures will not survive never mind thrive.
Clearly, the solution is not to eliminate or drastically reduce the number of meetings. Instead, we must focus upon increasing the effectiveness of the meetings we are having. Knowing your own DiSC style, and those of your coworkers, enable you to adapt your communication style — and meeting structure— to work well for everyone involved. Check out my post on Making the Most of Meetings Using Your DiSC Style.
I could write volumes on the subject of improving meeting effectiveness, but the following are three essential tips from meeting science (yes there are people who study the science of meetings) to help you improve the quality of the meetings you attend and convene.
Who Should Be Invited/Involved?
It may sound obvious, but success begins when the right people are brought to the table and the purpose for the meeting is clear.
According to Steven Rogelberg, a professor at the University of North Carolina who studies meetings, the meeting leader should ask themselves the following four questions as they consider the desired outcomes for a meeting.
The questions include:
- Who has the information and knowledge about the topic in question?
- Who are the key decision-makers and important stakeholders relevant to the issue?
- Who are the people who need the information that is going to be discussed?
- Who are the people who will implement any decision or act on the issue?
What Kinds of Meetings Should We Have?
This question relates to ensuring that the desired purpose, goals, and outcomes for meetings are clear. One of my favorite concepts comes from Pat Lencioni whose time-tested proven methodology we use in our team effectiveness work with “The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team.”
Pat talks about the concept of “meeting stew” in that many meetings can be compared to a bumbling cook taking all of the ingredients out of their kitchen and putting them into one big pot and wondering why their concoction doesn’t taste very good. Leaders do the same thing when they put all kinds of different issues into one big stew called the “staff meeting” where tactical and strategic decisions are discussed at once causing all kinds of confusion. The human brain can’t effectively shift gears to track these different types of issues well. As a result, nothing gets accomplished.
Instead, greater clarity and focus can be gained by having different types of meetings for different types of issues. That may mean more and yet more effective meetings overall. For more on this, I refer you to Lencioni’s books “Death by Meeting” and “The Advantage.”
How Do We Show Up in Meetings?
One of the first principles of effective meeting management is to begin with a self-assessment. As a meeting leader, reflect upon the level of participation and engagement in your team meetings.
Do your meetings encourage full participation and healthy debate? When you call a meeting, do attendees understand the meeting purpose? Are the topics relevant and focused and driving towards an outcome furthering the team’s goals? Did you, the leader, do most of the talking or did everyone feel safe enough to have a voice?
Another best practice that many leaders tend to skip is adequately preparing for meetings especially regularly scheduled ones. It is too easy to simply show up and default to the usual way of doing things. But since you are wanting to maximize everyone’s time, it is essential to spend some time adequately preparing for a meeting even the routine ones.
Be clear about the purpose of a meeting as well as the outcome you want. For example, are you meeting to share information, advance thinking about a certain issue, improve communication and collaboration, make a decision, provide input, or build cohesion and community? Different meeting purposes require different agendas and facilitation techniques to be successful.
Finally, meeting facilitation is a many-faceted art form, but one of the keys is to revisit the meeting purpose from the outset and gain agreement from the group. A successful meeting might also begin with a restatement of the team’s meeting norms which are previously agreed upon “rules of engagement.” In our work with teams, we develop team norms at each stage of the “Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team” process.
As the meeting gets started, adopt a servant leader mindset and seek to fully engage all members of the team. Ask questions, engage others, model active listening, draw out concerns, and mine for productive conflict. Certainly, the leader will share their own opinions and directives to move the
conversation forward at times, but in general, the leader plays more of a supportive, facilitative leadership role. This ensures that attendees feel safe to speak up if they don’t understand or disagree, genuine give and take exists, attendees buy-in to the decisions that are made, and they leave feeling clear and committed to the outcomes.
Practicing refining the Who, the What, and the How at your next meeting and let us know how it goes. Chances are your meeting effectiveness will soar and you won’t be saying, “not another meeting!” anymore.