It’s official – you are wasting your life in meetings.

There appears to be an epidemic of death by meetings. The number of clients that are complaining of feeling stressed and overwhelmed is on the rise, and one of the most significant factors that they cite is that they have no time to do the day job due to excessive meetings that are adding no value. Feeling oversubscribed seems to be the norm, and that’s before you take into account the demands of others outside of the workplace.

People generally want to do a good job and add value. This can be difficult when you are always chasing your tail to get the ‘real work’ done because half of your work time is spent in pointless meetings that end up becoming meetings about meetings! Research suggests that middle managers are spending around 35% of their time in meetings and senior leaders up to 50% which can equate to a figure of 62 meetings a month on average. It’s no wonder that people are working more extended hours to keep up and feel they are getting nowhere.

Meetings do bring potential benefits though. It’s a time to connect with others, to bounce ideas of each other, to share stories and understand other areas of the business. Meetings are invaluable to running a successful business but only if they are facilitated effectively. They are here to stay, and so it’s essential that we get the basics right so that they add value and not create more stress and overwhelm amongst the workforce.

The good news is that it is a straightforward fix even in the most entrenched meeting cultures. If you are going to be spending a fair chunk of time in meetings, then make sure you get the basics right and have meetings that matter.

Here are 7 SIMPLE steps to success when it comes to meetings that create results:

1. Get clear on the outcome. If you don’t know what are you trying to achieve by the end of the session how can you possibly manage what happens at the meeting? This is a, but it still amazes me how many people create a meeting without really thinking through the endpoint. So often a meeting is a knee-jerk response to something that feels it’s in the ‘too hard to solve right now’ pile and a meeting is a way of convincing yourself you have taken action. Get clear on what you want to happen. Does a decision need to be made, it’s a communication issue or an opportunity to generate ideas?

2. Use POST (Purpose, Outcomes, Structure, and Timings) in every meeting invite to communicate to all invitees. This way people can make an informed decision about whether they need to be there, delegate or supply information remotely. Every organization has its cliché acronyms, but this was one that I stole from my husband because it made so much sense to me when I was back in the corporate world. It’s a quick and easy way to get clarity on what, who, how and why. I have clients that are always turning up to meetings just because they had an invite and had no real sense of why they are required to be there or what is expected of them when they are. You can also use this framework when challenging invitations to meetings. Slow down the yes by asking for the information beforehand and THEN make your decision. Not only will you feel more in control of your diary but you will be helping other people think about these straightforward things to run better meetings too.

3. Send a ‘pre-read’ if there is important information to absorb before the meeting. DO NOT copy and paste a report onto death by powerpoint. Yes, people do still do this! Back to point 2 – if there is important information that you need people to comment on in the meeting then attach it to your meeting invite and make it clear in the STRUCTURE part of your meeting information what is required.

4. Be creative with the agenda The real wisdom in the room is often overlooked because two or three people are hogging the airspace. Yes, extroverts probably get more from the sparring process that takes place face to face, but people who have an introverted preference are often silenced by attendees that are ‘speaking to think.’ How can you create an agenda that involves everyone because if they are not contributing, you have to ask the question ‘do they really need to be there?’

5. Stay on track – you can tell the time, and you can speak. Use them both together! It’s such a simple one but make sure that you keep your eye on the time and facilitate the meeting accordingly by reminding people how long is left and what you need to achieve. And do not assume that this is only the role of the meeting organiser. I believe everyone in the room has a responsibility to contribute to an effective meeting. If that means that you are the one to speak up at the beginning and remind people that you need to keep an eye on the time then do it. Just because the meeting looks like it about to overrun again, this doesn’t have to be the norm. Be courageous and be the person that interrupts the flow 10 minutes before the end to signal the meeting to a wrap-up.

6. Capture decisions made on a flipchart where everyone can see, gain agreement and communicate any communication cascade or next steps before everyone leaves the room. Another obvious thing to do but I am pretty sure that most people don’t do this. Rarely to meetings run to time and often conclude with people grabbing laptops and pens and dashing off to – you’ve guessed it – another meeting! Back to point 5, manage the time and make sure that everyone is clear on the next steps by documenting visibly. In reality, most people don’t read minutes until just before the next meeting so keep it simple and visible while you still have them in the room.

Meetings are just one of the contributing factors to teams and organisations running inefficiently, and by addressing it, you can get some quick wins and results pretty quickly. If you can see there are inefficiencies in the way are operating in your business and are noticing increasing levels of ‘busyness’ them, please get in touch, and we can explore how I can help you turn around the way you work.

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