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The cure for meeting hell

The cure for meeting hell

April 18, 2012

Are you in meeting hell? Are you dreading your next meeting? Most meetings are boring and ineffective. But I put together some of our best, counter-intuitive ideas that helped our clients and I hope they help you too...

By now, you know that I don't sugar-coat things and I'll tell you as I see it. So I feel I have duty to tell you this'

Your meetings are a waste of time.

They're BORING AND INEFFECTIVE. And given the choice, most of the people in your meeting would rather clean the bathroom, go to the dentist, or undergo an IRS audit. Well, maybe that last one was an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

Don't feel too bad; most meetings aren't any better. Get our meeting table tents to transform your next meeting as our gift.

In fact, 71% of employees in the U.S. feel meetings aren't productive, according to a Microsoft survey. Ninety percent are daydreaming at some point during any given meeting.

And if meetings were banned one day a week, only 4% of the 150 senior executives from the nation's 1,000 largest companies say it would reduce productivity, according to a 2010 Socialcast Inc. study. Forty-six percent of the senior executives say the ban on meetings would actually increase productivity. That's pathetic!

One of my colleagues instituted a 'no-meeting week' at his company several times a year in which no one was allowed to hold a meeting and employees were so thankful you'd have thought they won an all-expenses paid trip to the beach. They loved it!

But for someone like me who spends 95% of every day in meetings, I've learned a thing or two to make the most of the time. Most of these ideas are counter intuitive and are not well known but, will make a big difference for you if you have a lot of meetings. And we have a tool we use in our meetings that you can download and use right away. More about that in a moment...

To not love meetings in business is like a basketball player saying he doesn’t like practicing. Its how businesses get better.

Here are 12 ways to solve meetings from hell:

1. Have a Standing-Only Meeting. Take the chairs out of the room for your next meeting (and forget the donuts!). See how long your meeting lasts when everyone has to stand? Make it no longer than 15 minutes. It's a great way to get everyone focused on what's most important so everyone can get back to work. I have been in meetings where it's so bloody comfortable that nobody wanted to leave. This is the downside to having a really nice office or conference room.

2. Have Daily Check-In Meetings

Daily check in should be focused on just three things.

  1. What are you working on?
  2. What bottlenecks or opportunities do you see?
  3. What are you going to do?

These daily checks in are NOT the time time to solve all the problems. They are the time to check back in and realign. When people know that they have to check in, they don’t go so far afield. Empower individuals to fix issues as they arise, but not during the meeting, only afterwards. If they don’t get resolved, put them into the parking lot folder for bottlenecks and opportunities to be prioritized and opened up at your weekly or monthly meetings.

3. Have Weekly Meetings

Weekly Meetings - Send out an agenda ahead of time that includes why you're meeting and what you plan to accomplish. Any other topic that comes up which is not on the agenda is nixed. Most meetings suffer 'entropy'. That means that without an equal and opposite force keeping the meeting on track, it will drift. Most people will never take the time to prepare a clear agenda, but the world belongs to the organized people with an agenda.

Last week in a meeting after we shared the agenda we asked the key question, 'does this make sense?' And one of the guys dropped a bomb that was like an elephant in the room that really needed to be addressed. Had we not asked for buy in, it would have surfaced later and derailed the whole meeting. Make sure you get buy in before your meeting.

4. Elect yourself the time sergeant.

Explain at the start of the meeting and say, 'In the interest of time and to help keep us on track, I ask for your forgiveness in advance if I have to cut short comments or some of the discussion if I feel we're getting off subject to help move things along so we get finished on time.' I've seen timid women become tigers when you give them a watch and some control. Ultimately everybody appreciates cutting the conversation short.

Have a topic that needs to be addressed that wasn't on the agenda? That's okay, but limit the discussion to just 12 minutes -- and keep track of the time. We use this clock to countdown the time to make sure we stay on task. Try it!

5. Decide collectively how much time to spend per topic

If there is a topic that needs to be addressed, ask everyone how much time they need to discuss it to make a decision. We usually give a topic just 12 minutes in our meetings and we use a time to make sure we stick to it. Warning: everybody always underestimates how long things really take. Better: add extra time per topic and cover less ground.

John D. Rockefeller said that a big part of his success was creating a 'meeting rhythm'. That is meeting with his key people on a consistant basis. If you don't do this you will suffer the 'vomit effect'. When you finally do have a meeting and people have so much bottled up they tend to vomit it all over the table.

But if they know that you will have another meeting scheduled then they can hold it until then. Try creating a "parking lot." We have meetings where someone comes in wanting to get a decision and someone else wants to use the time for brainstorming. So we created a parking lot.

The secret to an effective meeting is to keep everyone moving in the same direction. Otherwise, it's like trying to stuff an octopus into a mesh bag!

The secret is to keep everyone in the meeting moving in the same direction. Otherwise, it's like trying to stuff an octopus into a mesh bag! Ever tried it? It's not pretty!

A good meeting keeps everyone on the same page, moving in the same direction at the same time. It has a rhythm to it or a beat that keeps a band synchronized. Here are 7 more ideas to help you:

6. Managers should hold daily 'check-ins' with their subordinates.

These should take no longer than 10 minutes. There should also be a weekly meeting that can last for as long as 45-60 minutes. The weekly meetings are more in-depth discussions in which you talk about:

  • the top 3 kpi's (key performance indicators) things each person is working on;
  • how they're progressing with each project;
  • new opportunities;
  • any bottlenecks/issues they're experiencing;
  • decisions and commitment to action. (I recently saw a horrible meeting where they talked, talked and left. No action. Make sure everytime you leave with clarity who is going to what by when.)
  • then once a month use your collective wisdom to meet on breaking one bottleneck at a time.


7. Don't try to solve ALL the problems at the meeting.

Use the meetings to get everyone up to speed and set up additional meetings with the appropriate people if needed.

To remind everyone about how we want to begin the meeting, what we want to happen during the meeting and how we want to finish, we created these table tents. It's always in front of attendees so everyone is on the same page. Scroll down to download your own table tents you can use in your next meeting.

8. Set up Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to make sure you can track progress.

Your KPIs are objective measurements such as sales figures, outbound calls, inbound calls, returns, appointments, consultations, etc. Each person should have an update on the KPIs for which they are accountable.

9. WARNING: Silence in a meeting is NOT a good thing.

Silence usually means there's some disagreement or skepticism and it won't get done. Address it. Ask for comments or other ideas before moving on.

10. Listen first, then talk to get others to collaborate.

The single best thing you can do in a meeting is to first tell someone, 'What I heard you say is ' (summarize what you heard the person say)' and then ask, 'Did I get that right?' It allows the person to clarify their position and demonstrates that you're listening to what they have to say before responding. This week I facilitated a couple of men who had a hard time with this. They thought it was stupid to repeat back what they heard. But guess what? Every time they did it. The other one said 'No, that's not what I said.' Then we did it again, and again, until finally they were actually communicating. Shocker, but what you hear isn't always what was said.

These table tents help keep everyone on the same page so they know what's expected at the meeting. Scroll down to find out how to download these table tents for your next meeting.

11. Be aware of 'upward jumping monkeys' as I call them.

What are they? These are the monkeys that your employees carry on their backs and they want to put them on your back. You are smart, talented and responsible. So people come to you to solve their problems. But if you ever want to get free and elevate your people, don't allow them to do it! Help them to figure out the problem so they can resolve it and resist the temptation to solve it for them. Otherwise, the next time they have a problem, they'll expect YOU to fix it. Ask, 'Mike, let me know how you decide to handle it.' Empower and support them, don't cripple them.

12. If everyone seems to be turning to you for answers, ask them, 'What would you do?'

It lets everyone know that you want to discuss possible solutions to problems and your meetings aren't a forum for a complaint fest. Problems can be addressed but people should also be coming to the table with ideas to solve the problems too. And there's nothing more powerful than to simply ask, 'What would you do?'

Try these ideas at your next meeting. They work in one-on-one meetings, small groups and large groups.

And for the first time, we're making our Meeting Table Tents available just for our readers of the e-letter. This is a great tool to help keep everyone on track in your meetings. To download yours, GO HERE.

Think of yourself as the conductor of a symphony with different instruments each of which has a different role to play, but each is also working towards the same goal reading from the same sheet of music. That's the beauty of people working together.

Always taking you from where you are to where you want to go,


Jon Goldman, President