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Just Say No To Meetings!……………………….

This is a repost of an article by Howard Mavity, Partner at Fisher & Phillips Law Firm.  He is the Workplace Safety/Catastrophic Management Chair.  This post was in reference to a recent post on the Cost and efficiency of meeting.

*****************

I had not previously read posts by Ron Thomas, but based
upon his recent TLNT post, “The
Problems With Meetings?  They Cost More Than They’re Really Worth,” 
Mr.
Thomas is that rarest of leaders . . .:  an individual with common sense
and great judgment.  I relate to Thomas’ comment:
Meetings are the bane of corporate existence.  Whether
it is a conference call or a physical meeting, these are part of our process of
doing business, and for the most part they are not going away.

Just Say No!
Thomas goes on to conclude:

Let’s face it – Most meetings are a drain and a waste of
time.  How many times have we sat there and realized that the meeting had
turned into something else, and the discussion is like talking to an aged uncle
where it starts in one direction and ends someplace else.

Mr. Thomas then cements his status as a management “stud” by
not offering the proverbial “7 steps to improve meetings.”  Instead,
Thomas cuts to the chase:
My magic bullet is to not have them in meetings in the first
place.  In 7 months in my new role, I have called two all-hands-on-deck
meetings.  I had one to introduce myself, and one more to discuss how we
would move ahead with our processes.  I will probably have one more before
the end of the year to lay out my HR plan and walk them all through it.
While Thomas wisely refuses to offer a formulaic “7 step
plan” to recover from meeting addiction, he does share a number of useful
ideas.  Thomas first states that he consciously reminds himself that “our
days are precious and we all know that when we arrive at work, we have our list
of things to do to accomplish that day.”  In other words, as the big
dog who often schedules meetings, he weighs the value of a meeting before
automatically hitting his outlook scheduler.  He then acknowledges that
when a meeting is called, “there is trouble ahead if the concept is not
clear.”  He uses conversation, email, or better yet, a face-to-face
discussion to narrow and frame the topics.  He also champions educating
other people to understand that meetings may be more of a time waster than even
internet use:
What has always amazed me was how initially, companies would
lock down the internet and/or block social sites because they considered them
time wasters.  However, pull out the time clock and measure the amount of
money that is sitting around the conference room during an overlong meeting and
the true time waster will pop up.
Ron succumbs to the need to offer a few bullet points at the
end, but his recommendations are practical:
1. If you are the meeting chairperson, don’t be weak
because you are the conductor.  If it is bad it is because of YOU.
2. Have a clear agenda.  “What, pray tell, are you
trying to solve?”
3. At the end of the meeting, what decisions should be
made?
4. Think – how much time do you really need to arrive
at a decision?
5. Always! – think about that meter that is running in
the background.
Practical Guidance On Meetings
Perhaps we do need a 7 Step Program to address our addiction
to meetings.  The Harvard Business Review Blog Network regularly
posts relevant articles, including the appropriately titled,“Break Your
Addiction To Meetings” by Elizabeth Grace Saunders. 
 Ms.
Saunders starts out her blog as follows:
Manager, Noun
Textbook Definition:  An individual whose in charge of
a certain group of tasks, or a certain subset of a company.  A manager
often has a staff of people who report to him or her.
Modern Translation:  An individual who races through
the halls in a frantic attempt to make the next meeting on time while also
answering emails on his or her mobile device.
Ms. Saunders immediately moves to recommendations.  Her
most basic recommendation . . .
“reduce the number of meeting invitations that you
accept.” 
She proposes that one always asks whether they really need
to attend the meeting, and either decline or use one of the following
strategies:
• Ask for a pre-meeting look at the agenda so you can
pass on your comments to the facilitator to share.  (Bonus:  this may
force the facilitator to actually make an agenda!)
• Send someone else from your group to communicate your team’s position.
• Request a copy of the meeting notes after the fact.
Now, Ms. Saunders goes to the jugular.  “Reduce
the number of meetings you schedule – and reduce their length.”  Ms.
Saunders asked, “do you schedule meetings where you spend most of the time
talking – perhaps giving ‘updates’ to a room of people subtly checking their
phones?  Do you default the scheduling-hour long meetings (or
longer)?”  If so, you need to reprogram your default response of “when in
doubt, schedule a 60 minute meeting.”
Ms. Saunders raises the much neglected issue of meeting “etiquette:”
• Don’t schedule for FYI when you can communicate by
email.  Only use meetings for discussions and decisions that must happen
with a team, in real time.
• Send a clear agenda when you send the meeting invitation – not two
minutes before the meeting – so it’s easier for everyone to tell whether they
need to attend.
• Designate someone to take thorough notes on the discussion, the
decisions, and the rationale behind these conclusions.  Circulate those to
your manager, and anyone else who might need to be in the loop – but doesn’t
need to come to the meeting.
I strongly agree with Ms. Saunders’ final admonition, which
is to “keep your calendar clear by blocking in work time.”  Ms.
Saunders observes that if one refrains from meetings, they might accomplish
more “actual work.”  It might not surprise one to learn that Ms. Sanders
describes herself as a “time coach,” and earlier this year posted, “Stop Work
Overload By Setting These Boundaries.”
If the answer is “just say no,” why does everyone agree that
we seem to be making little progress in reducing the number of meetings? 
I sometimes wonder if we are overly fixated on achieving “consensus” either out
of a sense of fairness or a desire to avoid political attacks.  Sometimes,
I find myself simply wishing that someone would make a decision or delegate
responsibility.  Of course, an autocratic decision making system excludes
other worthwhile ideas.  In a 1996 article, “Fast Company” described
the importance of meetings and the effect of “bad meetings.”
Meetings matter because that’s where an organization’s
culture perpetuates itself. . . .  Meetings are how an organization says,
“you are a member” so if everyday we go to Board meetings full of boring
people, than we can’t help but think that this is a boring company. 
Boring at meetings is worse than negative messages about a company and
ourselves.” 
“Back To The Future Advice On Meetings”
The author, Eric Matson, goes on to list his “7 Deadly
Sins of Meetings:”
Sin No. 1:  People don’t take meeting seriously. 
They arrive late, leave early, and spend most of their time doodling. 
(Keep in mind that this article was written in 1996 before the advent of apps).
Salvation:  Adopt Intel’s mindset that meetings are
real work.
Sin No. 2:  Meetings are too long.
Salvation:  Time is money.  Track the cost of your
meetings and use computer-enable similarity to make them more productive.
Sin No. 3:  People wander off topic.  The
participants spend more time digressing than discussing.
Salvation:  Get serious about agendas and store
distractions in a “parking lot.”  (I wonder if this 1996 article created
that sometimes overused concept of the “parking lot.”)
Sin No 4:  Nothing happens once the meeting ends. 
People don’t convert decisions into action.
Salvation:  Convert from meeting to “doing” and focus
on common documents.
Sin No. 5:  People don’t tell the truth.  There is
plenty of conversation but not candor.
Salvation:  Embrace anonymity.
Sin No. 6:  Meetings are always missing important
information, so they postpone critical decisions.
Salvation:  Get data, not just furniture, into meeting
rooms.
Sin No. 7:  Meetings never get better.  People
make the same mistakes.
Salvation:  Practice makes perfect.  Monitor what
works and what doesn’t and hold people accountable.
After reading this useful, albeit aged article, my
conclusion remains that we should wage a holy war to reduce the number of
meetings.  As the “De Motivators” poster for “Meetings” states . . . “none of us is as dumb as all of us
. . . .”

Howard:  @howardmavity [twitter] Howard Mavity [LinkedIn]


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