How To Cope With 5 Issues People Frequently Have With Meetings

Group of diverse people having a business meeting

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 Its way too often, Its a waste of work timeor Nothing changes”. These are common complaints we have been hearing

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            Paul Axtell, keynote speaker and author of the book Meetings Matter, has compiled a list of problems associated with meetings. From over 25 years of experience conducting training courses for various companies, he came up with the following tips to make meetings more effective.

1. The entire meeting is dominated by only a few participants.

Despite time limitations, some participants spend meeting time ineffectively by either speaking too long or not coming to the point.  Let’s try to proceed along this guideline.

       Before Starting the Meeting:

  • Make sure that all participants know that a diversity of opinions is needed and that everybody is invited to share and express his or her opinion.
  • Ask the meeting’s permission to seek any participant’s/participants’ opinions pertaining to the subject matter.
  • Notify the meeting that certain issues will not be passed by if participants still wish to express their opinions about them.
  • Ask the participants’ cooperation and full attention to the meeting by not doing other works but listening to what is being said in the meeting.

       During the Meeting:

  • Listen attentively to what is being said and allow others to fully express their opinions.  If everyone does this, the person who takes a long time to speak will be aware of his/her own time limit.  Speaking without anyone listening can go on indefinitely.
  • In the case where you feel that a participant is being overly opinionated and predominating speaking opportunities, he/she should be asked politely to pause and let others speak or express their views, after which he/she could resume.
  • If a person speaking is interrupted or others try to cut in on his/her speech, they should be encouraged or allowed to continue and finish what they wish to say.
  • If you are interrupted, you should express your willingness to listen to the interrupting person’s opinion after you have finished what you have been saying.

After the Meeting:

  • In the case where a participant seems to predominate in the meeting such that no one else has a chance to speak up, he/she should be informed that the meeting expects a diversity of opinions, that he/she should express his/her own opinion only after having listened to others’ opinions and that it would be much appreciated if he/she could       invite those who do not normally express their views to speak up.

2. The superior is incapable of conducting an effective meeting.

If the superior is incapable of effectively conducting a meeting, you might volunteer to prepare the meeting, list items on the agenda, send the meeting schedule as well as the agenda to the participants so that they can prepare themselves prior to the meeting and discuss in the meeting to ensure accurate/common understanding and achieve the conclusion desired.

3. Participants are preoccupied with working on their laptop or using smartphones.  

If these events seldomly occur, they can be ignored.  On the contrary, if they frequently occur, it means we are condoning inappropriated conduct.  The solution might begin with an agreement in the meeting with top executives setting a good example or initiative as this proves that we give priority to participating in the meeting.  An announcement to the effect could also be posted at a clearly visible spot in the meeting room so that a signal could be made for anyone not complying to read it.  These can be started by ourselves as examples for our colleagues to follow.

4. Information is part of the agenda. No agenda should include discussion, information, recap or review, let alone breaks.

The agenda tells participants why they need to be there in a single bullet line: “Set product launch date,” or “Vote on software redesign,” something that actually requires physical presence to be therer to do, which in and of itself – is rare. Help participants understand why it’s so important that they need to be there and they’ll  be there to do it. On the other hand, madating the presence of an audience that doesn’t need to be there to show up and do nothing pertaining to the purpose of the meeting can kill productivity and a sense of self-worth. It’s like joining a group you have nothing in common with but forced to support so the speaker feels supported: “My work was so meaningless, I had to be here for nothing instead”. Thus, meeting agenda and information must be clearly thought out and shared before the meeting. To participate effectively, participants need to understand the background and related activity ahead of time. Because by not doing so, the meeting agenda is swaped from whatever it was to “share information” instead, while subjects discussed in the meeting will be merely information that could otherwise be sent by e-mail instead of the key issues that actually need physical presence, wasting the entire group’s time as well as valuable company money.

Presentation of information lasting about 10-15 minutes in a 90-minute-long meeting is quite usual. However, if it lasts longer, it could mean either the meeting is non-productive or the key issue is more complicated that initially understood to be. The latter, is rare. Thus, the objectives of each meeting must cover the following topics:

  • What the meeting is intended to discuss;
  • What should the starting point and potential risks be;
  • What the participants should learn or find out from the meeting;
  • What things or issues all participants are to be in agreement as far as their understanding is concerned.

On each topic, define what we desire and how much time should be spent.  If we succeed only on even one or two topics, we’ll find that it takes less time to present each information.

5.The subject matter discussed in the meeting keeps going back to the old one because nothing gets done.

At the end of each meeting, the minutes of the meeting should be sent out within one hour or no later than the evening of the same day.  They should identify the persons/parties responsible for each task and state clearly what needs to be done.  Follow-up must also be carried out on a regular basis with the aim to complete at least 85% of the tasks assigned.   If this cannot be done in time, help should be sought from the team members so as to achieve the goal as targeted.

Of course, it may not be possible to put an end to the staff complaints about meetings.  But at least there’s a lot that can be done to alleviate problems and enhance effectiveness, mainly through good, prepared communications.  Undeniably, all of us can make meetings more effective starting with ourselves. From a company perspective, on the other hand, meetings are hugely expensive. Sum up the total hourly cost of every person invited to the room. Would you still do it if the money was coming out of your pocket?

Compiled by BLOG.SCGLogistics

References and photos hbr.org, freepik.com

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