Collaboration is the key to getting work done, and one huge, inescapable component of collaboration is meetings. We all need to get together sometimes to discuss the next phase of the project, review a document, brainstorm new ideas or simply get all of the necessary minds around a table to hash out a problem together.
Why, then, are meetings almost universally panned? Meetings themselves aren’t to blame; when executed properly, meetings are one of the most effective collaboration tools at your disposal.
The fact of the matter is that your meetings are just bad, and Bad meetings ruin everyone’s day. Here are five of the most common culprits for bad meetings, and some tips on how to vanquish them:
1) They’re Too Long
The mobile device age has effectively torpedoed our attention spans, with some studies clocking the average attention span as low as 8 seconds. 8 seconds! Is it any wonder why, when your meeting hits Hour 2, that the majority of the room is checked out?
Simple Solution: “Have shorter meetings” is the easiest answer, but I recognize that that’s not always feasible–some problems take longer than 30 minutes to solve. While you should endeavor to avoid hour-long meetings (and enforce hard stops–people get antsy when meetings run long), if you must have longer meetings, schedule in breaks to refresh those 8-second attention spans early and often.
2) They’re Unstructured
Have you ever been in a meeting where, after the cordial introductions, the meeting organizer “opens the floor” with some vague guidance? The awkward silences and sidelong glances that follow are indicators that yes, we all know this meeting is poorly structured and no, we’re not going to bail you out of it.
Simple Solution: A formal agenda is by no means necessary for every single meeting you organize. However, your invite should always include the topics of discussion, who owns them and what you hope to get out of the conversation. If you can’t easily articulate those topics and goals, you may not be ready for a meeting yet.
Bonus tip: For any meetings clocking in at 60 minutes or more, a formal agenda is a must-have.
3) They’re Technical Nightmares
One of the leading drivers behind unproductive, late-starting or interrupted meetings is technical hiccups. Whether it’s a misbehaving projector that just can’t be bothered to display your PowerPoint presentation or a conference call guest that just can’t quite find their mute button, technology difficulties can grind even the best-planned meeting to a halt.
Simple Solution: Technology is all about testing. Do not wait until your meeting begins to check if the projector works or your online meeting tool is up and running. Take 5-10 minutes before your meeting and test out each piece of tech you’ll need for the meeting to run smoothly. That’s it!
4) They’re Full of “Lurkers”
The main reason why unproductive meetings are so damaging to your organization is a simple matter of numbers. For every hour you spend in a meeting, that’s an hour you’re not spending getting other work done. Multiply that by the number of meeting attendees and you can see how quickly wasteful meetings can spiral into expensive propositions. Meeting “lurkers,” or the silent meeting guests that contribute approximately nothing to the conversation, are a big drain on businesses and could almost certainly be up to more productive projects elsewhere.
Simple Solution: Take an extra minute or two while filling out your meeting invite to carefully evaluate what, if anything, each guest can bring to the table for this specific meeting. And break the “usual suspects” habit; don’t blindly include the same people on every single meeting invite you send.
5) Nothing Comes of Them
Finally, the true worth of a meeting is measured in the decisions, tasks and work that eventually comes out of all of that collaboration. Far too often, however, these important post-meeting tasks are left to float in the wind, with the hope that someone will step up and take ownership. This is the quickest way to turn your entire meeting into one giant waste of time.
Simple Solution: A followup email to all attendees is a quick and easy way to establish accountability for decisions and action items in a clearly visible. Or, immediately transition those items to your collaboration tool of choice, such as a project management tool or team workspace.
Looking for more ways to ensure you’re having effective meetings? Download PGi’s free eBook “The Modern Worker’s Etiquette Handbook” for tips on meetings, telecommuting, email and more.