The “Meetings: the practical alternative to work” poster I shared in a recent post seemed to resonate with many readers, for some strange reason. 😉 Isn’t it amazing what we do to ourselves! A friend of mine who ended up in administration once observed that he resented how much time he spent in meetings, that is until he opted to take a different slant on things. He decided that if the powers that be thought his job was to go to meetings, then he’d go to meetings and that is what would get done. This path of least resistance didn’t help productivity, but it lowered his frustration level, at least to some degree.
I’ve just come from a very productive meeting myself. [One might ask why a retired person needs to go to meetings; it falls in the category of “some people never learn”.] My definition of a productive meeting is one that (1) is really needed, (2) has goals to be accomplished, (3) has an agenda that helps the participants reach the intended goals, (4) involves all participants, whose input is encouraged, and (5) results in minutes/notes that clearly enunciate decisions made and action items to be taken – and by whom, and, even better, the date by which the action items will be actioned. One would think all that is obvious, but, as made clear by the popularity of the ‘Meetings’ poster, not so much.
Productive meetings are the only kind anyone should have to attend. My husband once gave me good advice on how to help make meetings work well. He said that even better than chairing a meeting is being the person who takes the minutes. Needless to say, this took me aback at first, but his reasoning changed my mind. If you write up the minutes you determine what gets recorded and emphasized, and you get to make sure that any action items are recorded in such a way that there is a clear expectation of … action. It may take a little bit more work on your part, but if you really want things to get done, and get done well in a timely fashion, writing clear minutes helps. [I found that advice so useful that I often wrote the minutes even when I was chairing the meeting, but I realize that this wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea!]
Just yesterday, BBC online shared advice on holding effective meetings from the world’s tech giants. I’d love to have some of my former colleagues try out some of these recommendations. In fact, I encourage anyone to try these out, and then blame it on Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos. Take a look.
Elon Musk: Ascribed to SpaceX and Tesla CEO, “Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value” and “It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.” The article pointed out that many people, while not physically leaving, leave virtually by tuning into their phone, iPad, or laptop and tuning out of the meeting. How true, and how demoralizing for those trying to be engaged. Of course, conference calls make disengagement a lot easier … and less obviously rude!
Jeff Bezos: Amazon CEO’s strategy for holding a productive meeting is to never have a meeting in which you couldn’t feed the whole group with two pizzas. I’ve been in meetings where this rule would have been broken many times over.
Bill Gates: Microsoft founder’s advice is to make sure you’re holding a meeting to make a decision, not to decide on the question. Hear, hear!
Steve Jobs: I particularly enjoyed a comment attributed to the late CEO of Apple: “People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.” Chew on that apple for a moment!
A follow-up article in BBC online from a few years ago offered additional advice on meetings. It bears the eye-catching title of ‘How to look interested in a boring meeting’. And you thought you were the only one! There is some good advice in this article, including practicing keeping your face in positions that don’t show boredom, distain, or overt disinterest. Clearly easier said than done. This requires practice in front of a mirror. It also requires us to be engaged enough in a meeting to remember to compose our face as we have practiced! 🙂
So, I offer a few take-aways for meeting survival.
- If possible, serve as chair, because then you can guarantee that there is indeed a point to holding the meeting and ensure that actual decisions are made.
- If not the chair, don’t be afraid to question things if some of the agenda items or discussions aren’t on point. Committees, and even chairs, can be nudged into being more productive than they knew was possible.
- If not the chair, volunteer to act as secretary, because then you have control over how decisions and action items are recorded.
- Practice your “I’m not bored, I’m really interested” face. This may take awhile.