One of the most common complaints I hear in organizations is “we have too many meetings.” I believe in most organizations there are too many meetings. However, I also believe that what is causing people’s frustrations about meetings is the fact that most meetings are ineffective. They don’t produce enough and they don’t leave people with the experience of ‘time well-spent’ and having produced great accomplishments.
If you make your meetings much more powerful and effective I believe people will feel differently about “too many meetings.”
Here are a few practical tips for making your meetings much more productive and fulfilling:
Focus on achieving outcomes, not discussing topics
This guideline may seem simple and common sense, however, the inverse is true for most teams, as they typically orient their meetings around filling time slots with discussion topics.
It starts at the planning stage. Typically, the head of the meeting gathers from team members topics that require dialogue or decision. He or she then attributes time to each topic on the list and slots them into the agenda, which gets distributed to the team.
I have been in so many meetings that begin with a slide that shows the agenda – the sequence of topics in their time slots.
Furthermore, so often when I ask the meeting facilitator “How did the meeting go?”, he or she says “Great, we kept to the agenda“.
Instead of falling into the trap of filling time with topics, begin each meeting by creating clarity and alignment around the intended outcomes of the meeting. You can do this before the meeting as part of the preparation or in the meeting itself. Always state the intended outcomes in terms of clear end-results, not activities.
Having clear outcomes in front of you throughout the meeting will help you to navigate the discussion and stay on topic, especially when people react to others’ statements and want to steer the dialogue down unproductive rabbit holes or in unplanned directions.
Also, make sure that when you achieve an outcome acknowledge its fulfillment and completion. Don’t just jump to the next one. This will generate a sense of progress and accomplishment, consistent with your purpose.
Spend as little time as is needed to achieve the outcomes
People will discuss any topic for as long or short as the time allocated for that topic – regardless of necessity or effectiveness. Therefore, the shorter the time you can spend on a topic to achieve the outcome you desire, without compromising the quality of the conversation the better.
Leaders often seem to feel that if they don’t have a long conversation with their team about a topic people won’t align, or their alignment won’t be genuine. That is not true. More often than not the only reason discussions are so long and tedious is because the leaders allow that or even promote that.
For example, when presenting a new direction moving forward, I see a lot of leaders present then ask questions such as: “Does anyone have anything to say?”, “Does anyone have a different view?” or “How do you feel about this?”.
These are the wrong questions to ask, and they will most likely lead to a long and ineffective discussion. Why? Because people always have something to say, and a feeling about everything. You don’t want to hear how people feel about the new direction.
This may seem trivial, but it isn’t – if you ask people to share how they feel or if they have anything to say, guess what – they will. How people feel is not a critical condition for alignment.
Instead, you should ask two more important questions:
First – “Does anyone have any questions about our new direction?” If you feel the need, you could ask someone to share their understanding of the new direction, just to be sure.
Second – “Are you all willing to align with this direction?“If everyone says “YES” you have accomplished what you wanted. If someone says “NO” then you need to continue the dialogue to see what is missing or the way for the unaligned to align.
There is no contradiction between someone saying “I am aligned” and “I still have concerns, fears, doubts, etc.” As long as everyone has the same understanding of what Alignment means you will be in great shape. It means: Owning the decision and/or commitment as my own decision and/or commitment.
Spending as little time as needed to achieve the outcome is only half of the story. Next week I will complete this blog with the second half of my advice on how to make your meetings more productive and fulfilling.