Meetings. Most of the time they are necessary, but many times they are challenging. Some people show up late. Some people talk too much. Some meetings run on and on and accomplish nothing.
What’s a meeting organizer to do? Let’s start with reviewing four pesky meeting challenges. Billie Blair, an organizational psychologist and president and CEO of the international management consulting firm change Strategists, says one of the most common frustrations is having an in-person meeting when e-mail or another form of communication would suffice.
“Everyone attending will know that it could have been dealt with quicker and with less effort and time expended,” Blair said. “It’s akin to throwing up wordy PowerPoint slides and then reading every word to the audience.”
Blair also points to holding important meetings without out preparing an adequate agenda or thinking through a likely direction for the discussion as a point of frustration for attendees. By the same token, she says, losing control of the discussion and allowing long-winded folks to take over the meeting annoys everybody.
“The greatest challenge of all is being able to clearly identify the purpose of the meeting, and to guide and facilitate purposeful discussion in order to reach reasonable conclusions and identify course of action,” says Blair. “Emphasis, of course, needs to be placed on the last phrase of that sentence—gaining direction for courses of action is usually the goal of an in person meeting. If it isn’t, then this usually suggests foregoing the in person and sending out an information e-mail or text.”
Overcoming These Meeting Challenges
Steven Goldstein, author of Why There Snowblowers in Miami? Transform Your Business Using the Five Principles of Engagement, deals with meeting challenges in a book chapter called “Stop the Meeting Madness.” He has established a three-pronged model to end the frustration: establish rules, create an ownership system and define meeting types and objectives.
“There should be processes for requesting meetings versus just scheduling them and a clear agenda design and consistency,” Goldstein says. “You should determine which attendees must participate versus those who ‘show up,’ and schedule a time allotted for each meeting versus the standard 60 minutes.”
Instead of the current “free for all” where anyone can set up a meeting, he says creating an ownership system defines principles for managing the meeting process on a rotational basis among the key leadership team. This system also ensures all participants have a stake in the successful outcome of meetings.
“All meeting are not the same, yet they are treated that way today,” Goldstein says. “The model clearly defines the different types of meetings, how to set the right objectives based on type and calibrates the time to be allowed for each.”
Putting an End to Mundane Meetings
Joanne Irving, a psychologist, management consultant, and executive coach that helps senior executives and business owners, says one of the reasons business meetings are such a challenge is that they are frequently held simply because it is customary to do so.
“Team meetings are held regularly as the putative way to ensure common objectives and group cohesiveness,” she says. “Quarterly meetings are held as the conventional best method to communicate with the organization as a whole. Two common components of meetings contribute to meeting malaise, wasting time and the energy of the participants. The first is the status report and the second is logistics.”
As Irving sees it, the status reports during meetings are both inefficient and ineffectual. When participants take turns reporting updates, the attention of others drifts as they think about all the other tasks they have to do. The level of detail is either too great, leading to excruciating boredom, or too little such that elements essential to understanding and decision-making are missing. Another poor use of meeting time is for accomplishing logistics, such as scheduling additional meetings or sub group meetings or listing tasks.
“Business meetings should be restricted to those situations that require complex problem solving and interaction between participants,” Irving says. “The only reason to have a meeting is for conversation. When meetings are forums for such activities as asking clarifying questions, challenging assumptions, exploring alternatives, identifying objectives and goals, committing to actions, participants are engaged and they are ‘challenging’ in the best sense of the word.”