I was interviewed this week by a journalist seeking input on how to schedule and hold more successful meetings. It is a very important topic, so I share these points with you… I think it would be a frightening statistic to know how much productive life force is squashed in unproductive, rudderless, meandering, ineffective, blathering, brain-numbing meetings. Yet well-organized gatherings of prepared and fully engaged minds can be the most productive activity of your workday.
Here is how to have more victorious meetings:
I. Pre-game Plan
Purpose: Don’t call a meeting until you have identified and written a clear purpose, defined objectives and the specific outcomes you are seeking with this meeting. This will reveal the lack of necessity of most meetings.
Rules of engagement: No crack(berry) heads… Complete focus and engagement. BlackBerries off, phones off and laptops closed—no exceptions. If you were meeting with the president (OK, say, Oprah) you would turn your phone off, right? Give everyone that same respect. Schedule breaks so folks can fiddle with their toys, but boldly enforce a full engagement policy.
The invite list: Only invite those integral to the discussion. Everyone else can get the 10-minute summary update. Don’t drag innocent bystanders through these slog fests. Only key contributors to the dialogue need suffer through the full fun fare.
Schedule guest appearances: If some won’t be needed until 30 minutes into the meeting, have them come in only then and depart immediately when their contribution is over.
Agenda: Circulate a draft agenda and get feedback, suggestions and input from the participants in advance. This will refine the agenda and acquire buy-in.
Ask for prep: Distribute reference materials that should be reviewed or studied before the meeting. The meeting can now focus on the discussion and decisions, not the background information review.
II. Game On!
Pep talk: Start with reminding group of the major purpose and concluding objectives.
Referee: Have someone assigned to be the time cop and referee. Have them give the 2-minute warning when approaching the conclusion of a section to the agenda and announce the hard stop (as well as the scheduled “commercial breaks”). If someone starts to “fringe” or take the conversation down a rabbit hole, have them throw the yellow card, suggest the conversation go “offline” (outside the meeting) or get the information written up and circulated back to the group.
Fight! Fight! Fight! (But fairly): Encourage debate, dispute and disagreement. If everyone agrees with everything, you don’t need a meeting. Fight, but fight fairly. Attack ideas, not people; battle with concepts, not the character of the person with the opposing view. No unnecessary roughness or unsportsmanlike conduct or you will get tossed from the game.
III. Post-game Wrap-up
WWW: What is the post-meeting action and deliverables? We call it the WWW – Who, What, When? Every action needs to be 100 percent accountable only by one person with a specific date of delivery. Circulate the key points and WWW’s to all attendees. Assign someone to follow up on everyone’s WWW’s.
Consistency: If you start practicing sloppy play you will start losing in the game of productivity. Continue this reckless behavior and it might even cost you key players – death by meetings.