As a leader, if it feels like you are spending most of your life in meetings, then you may very well be right. And if those meetings are dull, regularly meander feverishly or seem denser than the depths of the darkest rainforest, then you are probably not loving a significant part of your working week.
I think I have around 20 regular weekly meetings and a variety of monthly, half termly, termly or annual ones to add to the pot. Plus of course a few INSET Days, conferences and weekend bonuses to add which bulk the total up even further. Perhaps on average this comes to 700 plus meetings a year. Do a few rough sums in any direction and you will scare yourself with the sheer volume of time that you and your staff spend in them. Want to go even further? In “The Surprise Science of Meetings” Steven Rogelberg estimates that there are over 1 trillion meetings a year in America.
So is this such a bad thing? Well as I suggested in the introduction, it probably depends on the quality of the meeting. A good chair, interesting participants, good topics, clarity of purpose, adherence to timings, and good involvement from all involved, or even a combination of some of these, and things might be going swimmingly. But a whole series of things can create disengagement, frustration and chaos and sometimes much worse.
So what can we do about it?
I am starting to try and frame some meeting principles for those who have to sit through the meetings in our organisation.
Firstly, planning is key. As we know, proper planning prevents poor performance and meetings are no exception. Get the right people in the room, physically or virtually, and give them the advance information they need for a start.
Then try and keep to time. Begin and end well. Time the items. Try to eliminate waffle without crushing the contributor. Don’t allow domination particularly by the chair. Use humour, by all means, but there is nothing very funny about items that soar over their allotted time. You could even dare to finish early….
Next, name the kind of conversation. Is it an information item? In which case, does it need to be on the agenda at all? Is it for discussion and debate? Then let everyone contribute and be clear about what is negotiable. Perhaps the purpose is training and development. Say that. Then explain what you are hoping will improve, or change or be learnt.
Summary and summing up are notoriously difficult and complex skills to master. Try and learn how to summarise both when presenting at, and when chairing, meetings. And for that matter, why not rotate the chair. Give others a chance to learn that skill and see the meeting from a different perspective.
Then, even if you can’t avoid them, at least you can make your meetings productive and maybe even enjoyable for yourself and everyone else involved.