Too often, the answer to any question at work is, “Let’s get together and meet.” Meetings have become the proverbial necessary evil in the workplace. By definition, a meeting is the act or process of coming together (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary). Meetings can be helpful and productive. Meetings can be distracting and unproductive. Either way, meetings are not going away (completely) anytime soon. So, how can leaders best utilize the tool called a meeting?
Meetings should be viewed as a tool to help get the job done. And like any other tool in the toolbox, a meeting is not always the right tool. But, when it does fit the need, it must be used correctly to help get the job done effectively and efficiently. Meetings are the default for managers. Empowering and equipping are the default for leaders.
When the leader chooses to use a meeting, he must be aware of what he is asking of his team. The leader is asking team members to spend their most valuable commodity, which is their time. The first question that must be asked is about purpose: Is a meeting necessary?
The necessity of a meeting must not be for the purpose of information dissemination. We have all sat through meetings in which the person leading the meeting merely read an agenda or shared general information that is already available to team members. This is exhausting and frustrating to team members. The meeting tool is not always the best tool. Sometimes a simple email or document sharing resource such as Google Drive, Dropbox, etc is more than capable of accomplishing the meeting without spending everyone’s time.
When a meeting is necessary, and there will be such times, the leader must be intentional and purposeful with the meeting. Meetings should have a forward dimension. They should help move the team forward in the work. Too often, meetings are at best information gathering sessions and at worse navel gazing conversations. We have all been summoned to a meeting in which we were asked to contribute to a subject that we were ill-prepared for sharing. This generally results in a lot of individual pontificating and speculation, but not much real conversation of actual data or information. The result? Another meeting is scheduled to keep talking about the same stuff.
Another achilles heel of meetings is when meetings are used to talk about what was done rather than to focus on what needs to be done. Granted, sometimes the meeting is to evaluate the work that was done to glean lessons for future work of a similar nature. However, the tendency is for meetings to be a time when projects and personnel are merely justified because something was done; whether it was good or not. Meetings for the sake of meetings is useless.
If a meeting is to be utilized, the person leading the meeting should take a few steps to equip the team members ahead of time to be prepared to be productive.
- Determine the real purpose of the meeting. If the leader does not know what he is trying to accomplish, neither will the team members. Organizational drift is the byproduct of a lack of clarity.
- Create an Objectives-based approach to meeting planning rather than an Agenda-based. Objectives anticipate action steps. Agendas can be shared via email or a Word document. Objectives create accountability for the work by establishing follow-up action steps. Agendas are accomplished merely by sharing information.
- Share as much of the meeting’s Objectives with the team members ahead of the meeting to allow time for the participants to prepare to be helpful, productive contributors in the meeting. Flip the script and allow you team to have confidence coming into the meeting. Create synergy by allowing team members to know what is expected and anticipated.
- Keep the objective of the meeting simple and focused. There is only so much that can be accomplished in a meeting, so make sure it is what is most important and pertinent.
- Be strict on starting and ending times. This will speak volumes to the team and create group accountability for how team members prepare for the meeting and how they participate in the meeting. Plus, it will speak volumes of how the team members are valued.
Meetings do not accomplish the work. Used in the best way, meetings contribute to the work of the team.