This past week I have had a lot of discussions about meetings; in particular how much time we waste making meetings, attending meetings and travelling to meetings, how managers are always the ones calling meetings and how bad we are at running meetings.

If you added up all the time people waste in bad meetings every day in your organisation, it would probably equate to a months profits or more. The truth of the matter is that long, unproductive, poorly focused meetings cost time, money and energy.

Of course, there are lots of great reasons to hold a meeting, but right I’m seeing too many people suffering in silence, secretly lamenting the curse of the M&Ms (managers and meetings).

Why is it that so many of us could be so bad at meetings? Why are they as boring as bat stuff? Why do we hate how they fill up our day and how can we make them something worthwhile and even productive instead?

Last week I spoke to a group of middle managers about carving out 45 minutes every day of uninterrupted time to get stuff done and the majority of them said there was no way they could get 45 minutes of uninterrupted time and that they spent the majority of their day in and out of meetings. Can’t find 45 minutes? Isn’t it the role of a manager to do strategy, planning and critical thinking?

In today’s modern world when our time is our most precious resource, why oh why do we spend so much of it stuck and frustrated in meetings?

Habit? Expectation? False hope?
The problem I see in many organisations large and small is people call meetings without being super laser focused on why or what they want to achieve, or worse yet the meeting is a recurring appointment in their calendar that they just show up for each week like an underwater walking zombie. Without meaning, a why or a clear outcome we really are just gathering a gaggle of people to shoot the breeze. You may as well tell the attendees to stay home for the day.

‘Making meetings meaningful is a key factor in making them worth the investment of time and energy.’

Some of the most common characteristics of bad meeting include:

No clear goal
Lack of structure
Attendees are distracted (usually on their phones)
The meeting goes off on tangents
The wrong people are in the room
No decisions are made
Think about it for a minute if you add up the hourly salaries of every person in attendance at a regular meeting ie: 10 people @$50ph, that’s $500 for a 1 hour meeting. Worse that’s not really a 1 hour meeting as you need to take each person’s time into consideration. Therefore 10 people, that’s 10 hours of lost productivity. When you cut a meeting back to its bare bones there are a few reasons why you would bother getting everyone in a room together.

to make an important decision
to brainstorm ideas, create new options and find solutions
to bond participants and build relationships
‘I’ll show you a leader’s priorities if you show me their calendar.’

Next time you are setting up a meeting or have a meeting to attend you may want to get clear on the meeting’s intent first. Is there a decision to be made? Are we building relationships? Do we need to brainstorm options? Are we tracking our progress? Are we planning ahead? Do we have a clear agenda?

It drives me bonkers to see people setting meetings in organisations with a cast of thousands as they don’t want to leave anyone out or rub the new HR, Finance or Marketing person the wrong way. Crazy! In an ideal world you wouldn’t invite anyone to a meeting out of obligation. Instead you would only those who genuinely have something to contribute or whose expertise is needed or the decision may impact. Otherwise it may just become a talk fest of egos needing stroking and discussion.

And if you must hold a meeting consider breaking away from the old traditional style one and introduce a newer, more effective and stimulating format such as:

Stand up meetings
No phone meetings
Walking meetings
15 minute meetings
Daily huddles
Skype meetings
Why not find other, more efficient and productive ways to communicate and put an end to the meeting madness. Your people will thank you for it!

Keynote speaker and workplace futurist, Heidi Alexandra is without a doubt a leading authority on the topic of the power of unleashing individual’s unique strengths and power so they can volunteer their best work every day. Obsessed with helping leaders, organisations and entrepreneurs to create companies that balance people, planet and purpose with profit, she founded UQ Power – an executive development consultancy dedicated to rethinking and reimagining the workplace. You can download her free report Unleash Your Future Potential Now at http://www.UQPower.com.au

By Heidi Alexandra Pollard

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