Thursday, January 18, 2007

January 18, 2007 – Mangled Meetings

Ouch. You just sat through another painful meeting. Your sitting-down-parts are numb. The right side of your brain fell asleep and the left side spent most of the time doodling. You counted five, no, make that six times the person across the table nodded off. The same person that monopolizes every meeting wouldn’t stop droning on. “Man,” you mutter to yourself as you leave, “I’m glad my meetings aren’t like that.”

The following ruts can mangle even the most anticipated meetings.

Lack of Agenda. Without an agenda a meeting will likely get hijacked. Just like going shopping and leaving your list at home, you may end up with a lot of interesting things but not what you needed. With an agenda you stand a chance of accomplishing what you set out to do. A secondary benefit of having one is being able to reign in Mr. Monopolizer by gently saying, “That’s nice but we need to get back on topic now.”

Late Start. In a number of places I have worked there was a decided lack of the attention to timeliness. People tend to show up late and meetings don’t get started on time. Announce to the team that you respect everyone’s busy schedule and so you intend to start and stop your meetings on time. Then follow through.

Out of Time. Some meetings are very productive. You are frantically collecting valuable information as time slips by faster than expected. About 5 to 10 minutes before time expires take a quick look at the agenda to determine if you are going to finish on time. If possible, adjust the agenda to hit a couple of final critical points. If you won’t be able to complete on schedule, thank the group for their time and ask how they wish to proceed. They may ask you to schedule a follow up meeting or they may wish to go into overtime.

Background Noise. Some people are clueless when on a conference call. There is always somebody that can’t find the mute button. I swear in one meeting I actually heard someone snoring. The sound of traffic from the person driving in is always a winner. Stop the meeting and remind everyone of the code to mute their line (ex. Press *6). If it persists specifically name the sound that you are hearing and ask whoever it is to put a stop to it. “HEY! WHOEVER IS SNORING, PLEASE MUTE THE LINE!!”

No Minutes. I must admit, I have two sets of meeting notes sitting on my desk waiting to be typed up. Remember, if it isn’t written it never happened. No one will remember what decisions were made or who volunteered to do what if there aren’t minutes. They don’t have to be word for word transcripts written on a triplicate forms. One effective alternative is an email to the attendees with bullet points for the major decisions and action items. Of course a standard form (i.e. the same one used for the agenda) stored in a common directory keeps them consistent and easy to locate.

Browsing through Barnes and Noble last weekend I found several books on leading effective meetings. Maybe these simple concepts will revitalize your meetings and keep you from shelling out $20.

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