Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Are you free for a meeting?

How many times have you seen a colleague emerging from a meeting rolling their eyes sky-ward and saying “Well….that was a waste of time!”  Most probably you’ve done it yourself!

I used to work for someone whose tolerance of bad meetings was fractionally below zero.  I always knew when it had gone particularly badly, as he’d return with face like thunder, stride purposely towards his office muttering “Couldn’t run a chip shop” under his breath, and slam his office door.  Even if you don’t react in quite the same way, the fact is, meetings can be a waste of time and when you add up the time of all the people in the room, that can be a lot of time and a lot of money!

If you work on your own or in an office with just two or three others, your meetings will be mainly with customers, suppliers, business partners, etc.  I’ve found that even though such meetings are often organised and controlled by someone else, a little preparation can really pay off.

We all know the basic rules of running an effective meeting: circulate an agenda, nominate a chairman, list actions afterwards, blah, blah - it’s not rocket science and is something we probably learnt very early in our working life.  But I’ve been to meetings that have followed these rules to the letter and yet they’re still not successful, which made me ponder why that was.

I wonder if it’s because a lot of meetings don’t actually have an objective.  They may have a sort of catch-all-woolly-reason-for-getting-together, but no one’s defined the exact expectations. 

Let me illustrate what I mean: the marketing and production departments meet to discuss the launch of a new product.  What’s the meeting about?  The launch of the new product….right?  Wrong!  It’s fair to assume that both departments knew they were going to launch a new product (or they should be fired!) so why are they there?  How about marketing of the new product launch?  Well, it’s a start, but still not particularly focused.  However, if the meeting’s purpose is to select the marketing channels and define the key messages for the product launch, everyone has an exact idea of what they need to achieve before they leave the room.

Similarly, if you are meeting a client you will think you know what the meeting is for but do you really have clear objectives and, when they are met do you always stop there?

Unfortunately, however clear your objectives, meetings can become a platform for people to voice their opinions, grievances, successes or just listen to themselves speak for a while!!  A well known IT company used to have a policy of no chairs in meeting rooms, working on the theory that if everyone was standing up the meeting would soon be over.  If you are ‘in charge’, limiting the duration certainly focuses the mind and helps the meeting leader to retain control. 

I always seem to be up against the clock and my betting is that you do too, but perhaps a little time spent thinking about what we want to achieve from a meeting could save us all a lot of time in the long run.  I’ll let you know how I get on….!

If you’ve got tips on running productive meetings (and I’m sure you have) why not share them here?

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