When Nobody Attends Your Meetings: How to Change Your Meeting Game

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Are meetings the bane of your existence? Do you find yourself moving from one meeting to another without really accomplishing anything?

Do you find yourself saying at times, “There goes my productivity”?

True enough, a lot of you are very much familiar with these types of meetings.

Time consuming, energy sucker, waste of resources – we often fall victim to these unfortunate kinds of meetings.

The sad thing is we spend a chunk of our work hours in situations like these. You don’t get anything out of it, this is the sad truth about bad meetings.

In essence, meetings aren’t really bad. They are meant to enable people to communicate and arrive at important decisions.

It enables cross functional teams to meet and synergize. It’s a venue for exchange to arrive at a common goal.

What do we wish for? A scenario where there are still meetings as we really can’t eliminate it as it has its advantages – but less of it. The time spent on meetings can be used for more fruitful activities such as actually working for the goal.

What can we learn from all of this?

The Problem with Tradition

This is the typical meeting we have at work everyday. Everyone attends – but it’s all just talk. The people concerned are aware of the challenges the organization is facing but what do they do? They talk about the situation in meetings – there’s no lack of discussion to be fair.

However, what sets this situation apart? Even though everyone concerned is aware of the challenges the company is encountering, measures to do something about it has been tackled – what’s the problem then?

Problem identification? Check. Probable solution? Check. Discussion to arrive at this? Big check? Action? What action? All energies have been spent on the conversation.

It was just all about talking but no movement to pursue the course of action. Everyone succumbed to plainly talking about it – but none moved forward to actually do something about the problem.

What to Change

Are you familiar with the moment when someone raises a very good idea? It is so good it excites everyone? The thing with awesome ideas, it comes with great responsibilities. Nothing worth having comes easy. It entails risk and challenges.

No matter how wonderful an idea is, when people realize the extent of work and responsibility involved to achieve it – it scares them. They get intimidated and they try to work around the idea.

Perhaps a “light’ version of it, shortcuts, shortchanging, even completely withdrawing from the project because it seems too much to handle!

What do you expect from a mediocre solution? Obviously, a mediocre result. What was one a great idea – it’s barely recognizable now.

Another scenario of this, when a company is closing an important deal, what happens if the key people are called out several times a day to discuss this? It is an important decision but does these multiple meetings really help?

If you are interrupting the key persons every now and then just to meet up, will they really accomplish the work that is needed to close this deal?  You are making them lose their focus and there will be lesser time to do the tasks.

What closes the deal? It’s the work put into it. Meetings aren’t supposed to disrupt the workflow. The team members shouldn’t work around the meetings.

Unproductive Meetings

What are the characteristics of an unproductive meeting?

Meeting of Intentions – This meeting is often held because of the convenience it brings. Written memos and email may fall short on the actual intentions so this meeting is called out.

However, there’s not much value to this either. Can facial expressions, tone, body language and any other non-verbal communication be a point of reference moving forward?

Meeting of Formality – It’s the “just-because” type of meeting. These meetings are called because it’s what managers think that is expected of them. They do not want to be the manager who does not call for meetings at all.

Even though there are no agenda to talk of, no real purpose, just because meetings are expected in an office setting. There may be a bit of status updates – but that can be done through emails and it’s not really worth losing the work focus to that.

Informal Meetings – These are actually social gatherings in the guise of a meeting.  People meet up to sit down and connect. It’s not really about work – just some sort of socialization.

It’s not really value adding to the work. While it is also awesome to socialize with people at work, this can be done outside work hours.

Meeting Without Meeting

Does that sound strange or what? There are many ways of working in person together –technically you meet, but none of those unproductive meetings.

Here are the following examples:

Brainstorming Sessions – Held by a group of people and its productive because it’s a session where they come up with several options and ideas. It’s not aimless discussion.

Conversation – This is a discussion between two people. Less people involved, less discussion, easier to manage. You can start it to talk about something productive and it can be ended easier because it’s more manageable.

Group work – You get together with a group of people to work. It’s actually working side by side, not meeting for the sake of just talking.

The Kind of Meeting We Should Be Doing

Since we can’t completely eliminate meetings – it’s just right that we make it worth our while. Let’s talk about how we can restructure meetings to make it worth our time.

Setting the Limits

Before the meeting starts, decide how long it should be already. Don’t let the ending of the meeting be subject to further discussion – it should finish at the designated time.

The tendency of not making the ending firm – the meeting would go on and on. There’s no pressure to close it, so there’s no rush to come up with a decision.

If there’s a set time, time will be managed better. People are more inclined to come up with a resolution faster because there is a deadline.

There’s no open-ended discussion. They have to finish and come up with a decision before the time ends.

Meetings should start and end on time. Don’t waste the precious minutes of the people involved.

Setting the People Involved

When you set the meeting and listed those who should be invited – think it over why the person’s attendance should be required. Do you really need a big group to decide?

Think this over, the more people you invite to attend – the more opinions you need to hear. The more opinions you hear – the bigger the chances for a disagreement.

And those not involved with the disagreement – they are reduced to spectators of the ongoing discussion. It’s not a pretty picture. It’s more like chaos.

Invite the key persons needed for the topic and leave out the others. Choose who you invite in a meeting and you’ll be doing everyone a favor.

Setting the Topic

The meeting shouldn’t be the venue to settle the issue from start to finish. If you can actually do the other task outside the meeting – do it.

Decisions that can be settled outside the meeting room, should be done outside the meeting. Most especially if involves some few specific persons only.

Approach the person who makes the decision and do that prior to the meeting. Imagine going over this in a meeting, asking the person to make the decision while the others are waiting for that answer.

How many person’s time have you wasted? Let the meeting be about the decision made. Don’t do everything end-to-end in the meeting.

Setting the Stage

It’s all about preparation as well. The one who set the meeting should ensure that anything needed to keep the discussion productive is present. First and foremost, the one who set it should have a proper agenda. Meetings aren’t the place to just “wing” it.

He should know what they want to accomplish in the meeting – the goal. The persons needed to reach that goal in meeting – the attendees.

If there is something required from the attendees like information, report they need to bring – they are duly informed before the meeting.

All necessary resources reserved and prepared – like boards, visual aids, etc. As mentioned earlier, the time needed to accomplish all of these has been pre-set.

At the end of the meeting, the decision they have come up with should be able to address the following concerns:

The tasks involved in the solution have been identified.

Individuals/teams who are designated to do those particular tasks have been assigned.

There’s a timeline and a deadline for all of these tasks.

At the end of the meeting, everyone should understand and agree in what they have discussed. Accountability should have been set.

Setting the Tone

Meeting shouldn’t be used to disperse memorandums. There are other ways to spread information such as those and it shouldn’t be in a meeting.

Memorandums that are sent via email, sent as hardcopy, and so on – should be read. It’s everyone’s responsibility to be in the know. Reading and understanding the notices are part of one’s job.

Setting the Culture

Brainstorming is mentioned awhile ago as a good idea to meet but it’s still a “non-meeting” in the usual sense. Set a culture where people are welcome to brainstorm. Here are ways to make it effective and not make it slide into a traditional sort of meeting:

You want to create a spontaneous and energetic environment where the ideas will freely flow. It’s best to invite those who are interested in the goal. Those who are passionate about the cause make a good participant.

You want ideas, so keep them going by giving encouragement and positive feedbacks. Don’t limit the ideas, just keep them going. As to not make the brainstorming go on and on – be creative. Have a timer to create excitement, simulate rush but have lots of fun while doing it!

To sum it all up, meetings can be a waste of time but it can also be effective when done well. Next time you feel the need to set one, do a check first. Can you resolve it by yourself? If not, can this be resolved by a simple conversation with another individual?

Or do you need key persons to arrive at a decision? If you can’t do it by yourself or with another individual – select only the people who are really needed in arriving at the solution.

If so, set the meeting, prepare the agenda to guide the discussion and make sure that there’s a firm start-to-end time schedule for this activity. With these, you now know what to do when you feel the need to set that meeting.

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