“Let’s meet” can become the two most dreaded words one hears during their workday for a variety of reasons. One minute you’re feeling happy and productive; then suddenly your momentum is completely halted by a gathering that runs too long or is too disorganized.
Those are just two of 10 reasons that 1,600 people gave in response to GiveMore.com’s 2012 survey about what turns a meeting into a time-sucking annoyance. But the reality is that meetings are essential for the operation of any organization, whether it’s a solo professional getting together with a client or an internal presentation for an entire corporate workforce.
Here are some tips that will help keep “meet” off your list of banned words, whether you are the organizer or just a participant.
Mind the Clock
“The clock is God in meetings.” So decrees the Harvard Business Communication newsletter in its “10 Commandments of Meeting.” If it’s the first commandment in Harvard Business School, it should be your first priority for a good meeting as well.
That means establishing an end time in advance if you’re the one who has called the meeting. It also it means arriving on time if you’re an invitee. Everyone is multi-tasking as much as you are, and punctuality is simply a matter of respect. If a meeting needs to be open-ended then it should be clearly expressed beforehand that it would go as long as necessary. But a better solution might be achieved by tabling the meeting and letting all participants spend some “alone” time with the issue rather than forcing them to stew together in the same room.
Set a Goal
At the same time you are asking everyone to put the meeting on their calendar, you should also tell them what you hope to accomplish by gathering together. On his Intentional Leadership blog, consultant Michael Hyatt suggests stating the desired outcome both in the invitation and at the start of the meeting. “By stating the outcome, the participants can work together to achieve it and keep the meeting from wandering off-track,” he writes.
This may sound like busy work, but, as Hyatt writes, “You want to document decisions, so there is no misunderstanding later. You want to document action items, so that you can hold people accountable and track progress.” So don’t get bogged down recording every single detail; keep a record of what was accomplished and the responsibilities of each participant going forward.
Stick to the Agenda
Back when Marissa Mayer was Google’s vice-president of search products, she told BusinessWeek writer Carmine Gallo that she called 70 meetings a week on average. While she made sure the agenda was not too rigid, every participant was given an outline of what would be discussed at the meeting in advance as well as a description of how the meeting time would be used. There must be some merit to Mayer’s approach, as she has since gone on to become CEO of Yahoo! and was named Fortune magazine’s 14th most powerful businesswoman of 2012.
Meetings are Business, Not Personal
Waiting for people to finish socializing when you have other important items on your calendar is about as fun as chaperoning two teenagers on a date. Even worse is when co-workers who don’t get along use a meeting as a forum to grind an axe they have with each other while everyone else stares down uncomfortably at the patterns in the conference table wood grain.
Again, this is a matter of respect for the time of your colleagues and customers. Mixing too much pleasure in with business is not a formula for efficiency or success, and if you’re not good at running or participating in meetings, then you might just run out of reasons to have them, and that’s not at all good for business.
Chris Lenois is a business owner, professional journalist, and freelance writer for Vistaprint, offering a huge selection of personalized holiday calendars and many other custom gifts this holiday season. Chris has contributed articles to many newspapers and publications, including the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Scat Magazine, and Wired.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles - freedigitalphotos.net.