In my previous post, I drew a parallel between our society’s consumption of empty calories and the prevalence of useless meetings. You can read that post here. The idea is that when you have good meetings, ones with productive debate and decision making, you don’t need many of them (just as you only need a small amount of protein rich food but you can eat empty carbs all day long).
When your meetings are just sharing circles with little diversity of thought and even less tangible action, you end up having more and more meetings without ever satisfying the craving for progress.
How to Make Your Meetings More Nutritious
There are things you can do to make your meetings more valuable and more satiating. Put these ideas in place and you’ll find that you get more done in less time.
1. Focus on the unique value of the team.
This is my mantra. If your team doesn’t understand its unique value, the tendency will be to do everyone’s individual work by committee. Ask yourself what can only be accomplished together. Be disciplined and remove everything else from the agenda.
2. Set the goal for each agenda item.
What are you trying to accomplish in talking about an issue? Are you trying to generate new ideas? Are you trying to poke holes and identify risks in a plan? Are you making a decision? If it doesn’t say on the agenda, don’t let the discussion begin without clarifying the point of the discussion. Then question any conversation that takes you off track.
3. Only say things that add value.
A huge amount of time in meetings is spent in violent agreement (when each team member makes the same point in their own words). You will know that this kind of pointless repetition is coming when someone says “I don’t want to repeat what others I have said, but…” Agreement requires two words: “I agree.” It’s disagreement, dissent, and diversity of thought that deserve airtime. Focus only on novel contributions.
4. Use a process for making decisions
Another way to waste time in meetings is to attempt to make a decision by talking about something for a while and then taking a vote. Good decisions need a process. The most important step is the first one where you decide what you need to decide, what criteria and process you will use to decide, and what information you will need to make a good decision. Skipping this step will leave ambiguity, which will slow down the decision making.
5. Assign responsibilities and next steps
How many times have you had a long and involved conversation in a meeting, only to go through the exact same conversation again because no one did anything the first time? Assigning clear tasks and defining next steps is essential at the end of a meeting. Of course, when you’re spending hours discussing and sharing, you tend to run out of time to define accountabilities. My advice: block the door until it’s done.
It’s ironic that the result of ineffective meetings is that we have more and more of them, but that’s what is happening. Up the “meat” in your meetings and be amazed as you need fewer and fewer meetings to feel like you’re getting things done.