Meeting-ful vs. Meaningful?

April 28, 2015By Views

by Dave Wendland, as seen in Healthcare Distributor magazine, Out of the Box column

January/February 2015

Recently, our art director commented that he no longer plans to attend meetings that are not meaningful. It reminded me of a frustration that my father once shared many years ago when he stated, “Meetings with an outcome focused on scheduling another meeting are time-wasters, frustration-makers, and morale-deflators.”

So why have so many organizations fallen into the trap of using office time for less-than-productive meetings? They seem to have become the bane of corporate life.

It may come as no surprise, but I have a theory. As a society we have become socially inept. Technology and the lack of truly constructive face-to-face time have resulted in an underlying societal need to be part of a group. And, meetings – lots and lots of meetings – seem to be one way to achieve that.

Here are several signs that a meeting which initially enthralled you is missing the mark.

The compelling agenda was a part of the old bait and switch.

Within the first few minutes of the meeting you’re not quite sure what in the world you’re doing there. The falsely advertised topics that sparked your intrigue have been dismissed and it seems that no participant knows the purpose of the meeting.

Nobody is contributing to the discussion.

You can see it in their vacant expressions. The other participants are using this time to be lulled into a deep hypnotic state by a moderator that likes nothing more than to hear their own voice. And then a company wonders why their productivity is slipping.

Innovation becomes a four-letter word.

All of a sudden nobody is thinking outside the box to solve whatever issue prompted the meeting. Instead they are falling back into their comfort zone, defending the way they’ve always done something. Thoughtful debate and lively discussion not only keeps meetings more engaging, but it often leads to the best outcomes.

Despite the many pitfalls, I’m the first to admit that meetings can be very productive and are absolutely necessary in many cases. Here are a few reminders to help keep meetings meaningful.

  1. Before you call a meeting, think about whether specific and actionable outcomes can be achieved. If not, then wait and schedule the meeting when next steps can truly be derived.
  2. Don’t become the “always available” person that attends every meeting. Sometimes, other priorities must take precedence. You may find meetings shorter in duration more productive.
  3. Think before inviting everyone to the meeting. Smaller groups (six or so) have been proven to be more effective than large groups – so why is the invite list growing? I know it’s often hard to keep someone out of a meeting who may have something to contribute, but Benjamin Franklin’s wisdom applies here: “When in doubt, don’t.”
  4. Shorten meetings. Just because your calendar program may automatically suggest a meeting be an hour, attention spans have become way too short for anything longer and most topics can be accomplished in 45 minutes.
  5. Don’t forget the importance of an agenda, pre-read materials (if appropriate), and a purpose or stated objective for the meeting provided ahead of time.
  6. And finally, end with action steps and assignments. If you need a decision to move forward on a project or initiative, confirm the group’s commitment and describe next steps. If the outcome was the need for research or additional information digging, make sure everyone is aware of who will do what.

It would be idiotic of me to suggest that meetings could be totally eliminated. However, I do believe that my father and our art director are both correct in that all meetings should be rethought. When the right kind of meaningful meeting is scheduled, it will become more productive for all.

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