There’s an old corporate story about how a major manufacturer of computers used to have a device in their conference rooms that kept track of meeting costs. When the meeting attendees entered the room, they would swipe their employee badges and the device would note their salary, then as the meeting was progressing it would display the cost of the meeting by multiplying the aggregate wages of the attendees per minute by the minutes expended in the meeting. The point was to make everyone in the meeting aware of how much the company was investing in the meeting with the hope of motivating them to use the time wisely.
I guess a more effective device would not only track the costs of the meeting, but also the benefits derived from it, then either provide the attendees a bonus or deduct from their wages based on the results of the meeting.
This may sound harsh, but frankly anyone who has spent any time in a major corporation, heck even a not so major corporation, has been subjected to numerous meeting that not only didn’t contribute to the organization’s success but actually detracted from it by wasting valuable resources that could have been effectively deployed elsewhere. Maybe I’m just a cynic, well quite possibly, but I get the distinct impression there are ‘professional meeting attendees’ out there who view their job as going to meetings and don’t really care if anything is accomplished – as long as they are in a meeting they believe they are being productive.
So am I saying there should never be a meeting? No, I am saying that the need for a meeting should be scrutinized, and that if a meeting is called it should be designed to accomplish something.
When is a Meeting Necessary?
Some legitimate reasons for meetings are:
1) No one person has enough of the facts needed to make a reasonable business decision
2) A diverse group is needed to provide various perspectives to a problem solution
3) A team needs to be briefed so that all are on the same page
4) Buy in is needed from a number of separate organizational entities for a project to be successful
5) A major change in an organization is to be announced
6) The members of an organization/team need the status of a project
There are more but the point is that before a meeting is called, there should be some thought given as to whether or not a memo, E-Mail, blog update, or some other form of communication would be just as effective for communicating the message.
OK, so We Have to Meet, How Can We Make the Most of the Meeting?
If you must meet there are structures that enhance the possibility of the meeting being productive. Using the following conventions can have a positive effect on meeting outcomes:
1 ) Send an agenda out in advance of the meeting
2 ) Let attendees know if there are any readings required prior to the meeting so that everyone arrives prepared to be productive
3 ) Let attendees know if they are expected to present a report to the meeting prior to the meeting, or better still ask them to send you a copy of the report prior to the meeting
4 ) Ensure that people have actually fulfilled the commitments noted in 2 and 3
5 ) Ensure that the meeting starts and ends on time, do not wait for late arrivals
6 ) Let attendees know how much time they will be given to express their opinions and have a time keeper enforce the speaking limits
7 ) Assign a facilitator to ensure the meeting stays on track
8 ) Assign deliverable to individuals, not to the group, and follow-up on deliverable progress
9 ) Send out minutes within 3 business days of the meeting so that all know what was agreed to
10 ) Ask attendees to write down any criticisms or suggestions for improving future meetings as the last item on the agenda
In closing, when in doubt, don’t have the meeting, however if you need a meeting make it productive!