We’ve all spent hundreds of hours in mind-numbing meetings that accomplish absolutely nothing. Why? Because no one takes the reins and runs things right. Fear not. There are easy solutions to meeting management but you have to be disciplined, organized and possibly have a good sense of humor.
It may come as a surprise but one of the most inspiring meeting coaches out there is Monty Python genius John Cleese. His post-Python career includes a starring role in three decades worth of immensely popular management training videos. If your firm suffers from dysfunctional meeting malaise, the recently updated classic, “Meetings, Bloody Meetings,” is well worth the investment.
So in the spirit of Cleese’s work, I’ve crafted these five meeting management tips.
Make The Agenda the Boss: A cardinal rule is to never, ever have a meeting without an agenda. It’s obvious but often overlooked. A good agenda has every topic listed in order of discussion and is distributed to all attendees prior to the meeting. A great agenda attaches the appropriate employee to each applicable item: “Update on third quarter budget: Charlie.” A brilliant agenda adds a time frame to every item: ““Update on third quarter budget: Charlie: five minutes.”
Equip the Room Correctly: “Are you there? Is this thing on? Is it on mute?” How many times have you heard any of that? Someone needs to be responsible for all the crucial equipment in the room and make sure it’s working in advance of the meeting. A good meeting room includes a high-quality speakerphone system, a projector with all the right cables and connectors, or better yet -go wireless, excellent WiFi with a password for guests and, clear and concise, readily available instructions on how to use everything.
Ban Food: Charlie can’t report on the third quarter budget if he’s busy trying to keep his egg salad from dripping on the agenda. Food is disruptive and it slows things way down. No one wants to eat breakfast or lunch in the conference room anyway and no one wants to have a 4:00 PM meeting in a room full of garbage and/or odors from the morning meeting.
Follow Up: “So Janet,” you say, “you’ll take care of the deployment schedule?” Janet agrees and you fast-forward a week. Did she do her part? Someone, likely you, needs to write down all the promises that were made in the meeting and follow up on them. Also, avoid using a passive voice making assignments. If you say, “The deployment schedule should be written,” everyone will agree with you and no one will do it.
Be Passive-Aggressive: If your meetings drag on too long and no intervention has worked, drastic action may be required. If you’re sick of sitting, take away the chairs and conduct the meeting standing up. That’s a sure-fire way to move things along. If people are chronically late to your meetings, start them on time, even if no one is there. You’ll look a little nuts talking to an empty room but the message will be heard. On the flip side, if you’re frequently summoned to meaningless meetings, just stop going. When your boss asks you why, let him/her know that you don’t have time for that meeting and most importantly, that it sucks valuable time away from your work. It’s a risky move but may be the wake-up call the person in charge needs.