Are you making a difference in meetings and conversations?

Two of the biggest complaints I often hear in organizations are:

  • “Our meetings are not productive”
  • “We have too many meetings”

The irony is that in many – perhaps in most – cases the biggest complainers are also the ones who are the biggest creators and perpetrators of this problem.

I was facilitating a strategy creation meeting for a global technology company with 30 of the top leaders and managers of a service department that was going through significant change.

People had traveled from all corners of the world to attend this four-day meeting. Needless to say, this was a critical meeting at a critical juncture for the department as they defined their long-term vision and strategy, as well as their short-term priorities and initiatives.

As with most strategy creation sessions, the debate was dynamic and lively. We moved from breakout discussions to collective debates, illustrating ideas and positions on white boards, and overall people felt passionate about the topics.

There were, however, around 5-6 leaders/managers who didn’t engage very much. They sat at their tables, computers open, heads down attending to email. From time-to-time, they lifted their heads to listen to the debate only to return to their busy work soon after.

When asked numerous times to close laptops and put away their mobile phones their response was either denial, stating that they were “fully engaged in the debate” or they would close their screens for a few minutes only to open them and continue their delinquent activities soon after.

I facilitate and attend a lot of meetings and unfortunately, I see this behavior pervasively.

What a waste of time and money! To have traveled all that way and then instead of completely immersing themselves in the conversation, making a difference and collaborating with colleagues to shape the future and destiny of the organization, to spend most of the time doing the same mundane things that they could have stayed home to do. What a rip-off and missed opportunity for them, their teammates and the company!

And, even if you didn’t travel at all; even if you just walked a few paces from another office, it is still unacceptable to sit in such an important meeting, that requires everyone’s undivided attention and not contribute in the way you can.

Let’s be honest – you can’t make a difference if you are not fully engaged in the conversation. Especially in a strategy creation type of a meeting.

So, to all those who claim that they can fully engage in, and contribute to meetings while doing email, or scheduling other parallel calls and meetings and then going in-and-out of the meeting to attend to these, I say

“Stop kidding yourselves!”

It’s not that everyone in the meeting has to talk. In fact, in the meeting described above, like in many meetings, probably 50-60% of the participants actually talked. However, at least 80% of the people were fully present and engaged. They were listening actively and attentively, nodding their heads, raising their hands when we were asking for alignment and moving around the room with the debate, to and from the breakout sessions and whiteboards without missing a beat. It was clear to everyone that their attendance and presence at the meeting, no matter how quiet, was powerful and made a difference.

I am confident that these people will leave the meeting clear about the outcomes and how the team derived them, and fully aligned and on board to own and drive the next steps. I am not so sure about those who were not all there.

The punch line for me is: Multitasking is a myth! If you want your meetings to be productive make sure that everyone (and I mean everyone) in the meeting is off their computers and phones and fully engaged in the conversation the entire time.

And, if you make sure that all your meetings are productive, I promise you that people won’t feel like there are too many meetings. In fact, they will start looking forward to productive meetings that move things forward and make a difference!

Founder and President of Quantum Performance Inc., a management consulting firm specializing in generating total alignment and engagement in organizations.

His work has encompassed a broad range of industries including banking, telecommunications, manufacturing, entertainment, real estate, retail, startups and non-profits.

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