8 time-tested essentials that will make people WANT to come to your meetings.
It’s 9:10am as you look at the person across the table and your eyes begin to “roll” after the person running the meeting says, “Okay, let’s get started. This shouldn’t take long.” In your mind you are thinking, “Big fat chance of that!” And this is because over the last two years your supervisor has never kept to the 60-minute proposed time allotment for his staff meeting and there is no reason to believe today will be any different. You have an appointment at 10:30 am, but surely you will make that.
And only 80 minutes later the supervisor is saying, “…So, that leaves us with just one more dimension of this project to cover…” You now know, for sure, your 10:30 appointment is doomed. Looking at your watch for the ninth time in the last five minutes your thought process runs something like, “This guy is wasting my time! I am going to miss my appointment! I have four projects I have to get done by the end of this week and he just keeps rambling on and on about stuff he could just email us. I have phone calls to make, requisitions to fill out, emails to send, and I have to prepare for another meeting at 3 PM today! Can we just get out of here?!!” (The last line is screamed at the top of your inner voice.)
I know you have thoughts like these, because I had them too. I can vividly remember being furious with the nonchalance the supervisor had about obliterating MY schedule at his/her whim. As if nothing could be more important than what they had to say. As if I had all the time in the world to do all the taskings they gave me and running 30 minutes past the scheduled meeting end time was just fine. They thought it was no problem. WRONG! Big buzzer!
I’ve recently read an article that points out if you are a middle manager you spend about 35% of your time in meetings, and if you are upper management it’s closer to 50% of your working time in meetings. Do the math on that and you lose 14 to 20 hours out of your 40-hour workweek. Yes, I know, you work more hours than that, but you get the point. It’s a lot of time, and the worst part is many of these meetings do not accomplish what they should. In the end we need our meetings to be productive and worth our time. So, what’s the answer? Run better meetings! is the only answer that makes sense.
Let’s address this from the supervisor’s perspective and how they might want to approach a meeting in order to be more productive. Here are eight steps that will make a real difference.
- Decide if this meeting is required. Do you need to bring all your people together and talk about a project that only affects half (or less) of them? Maybe not. You need to ask yourself: is this a meeting that makes a difference in your “project” at this time, or will a well-authored email or memo do the job of instruction needed until a better time can be found for all involved to assemble for a quality meeting?
- Plan ahead. When a supervisor sends out an email or walks through the halls and says, “We are having a meeting in 45 minutes” there is something really wrong. Most times it stems from the supervisor not planning ahead very well, and now he/she is going to make everyone pay for it. It’s a chaotic gesture trying to recapture control of the situation and it rarely works as anticipated. Participants in the meeting are jerked out of their productive schedules and are now witness to someone who is looking for – rather than giving answers. Nobody wins in this scenario. To be fair, on rare occasions, there are times that demand an immediate meeting, to coordinate a volatile situation, but not many and they are not for everyone.
- Have an agenda for the meeting (and it should go out 48 hours prior to the meeting). If you don’t need an agenda for the meeting, you probably don’t need the meeting. The agenda should be fairly detailed. It should have a start and an end time, a list of the topics to be covered (prioritized in order), who will be speaking and when, and the goal(s) for the meeting. If there are any handouts for this meeting, they should go out with the agenda – especially if they require answers or something to be filled out. Nothing is worse than handing out a bunch of surveys people must fill out in the meeting, because people are either going to concentrate on the paper in front of them or listen to what people are saying, but they can’t do both well. Sending them out prior saves time in the meeting and gets you valid answers or thought out responses for the survey.
The agenda not only tells everyone attending who will be speaking, but it also tells the people who are speaking that they will be required to speak! Now, you won’t catch someone unprepared who now tries to ad lib an extemporaneous monologue on some minuscule portion of a project they have been working on for two days. It saves a lot of time and embarrassment when you give them time to prepare.
- Start on time – every time. “Well, we frequently start a few minutes late” is what I always hear. Okay, why? There is no good reason. The reason we start late is because everyone thinks it’s okay to be late. Start all your meetings on time and do not go over the first few minutes you have already covered for those who come in late. You disrespect all the people who came on time when you do that and reward the latecomer. Nope, when people come in late, you press on as if they are invisible. After a while people will learn that when you have a meeting, it starts on time. Period. Most people will appreciate that, because you are not wasting their time.
If the company culture is such that meetings are scheduled back to back and there is no time to get to the next meeting, start ending your meetings ten minutes early and set the example for others to follow. It may take a little while, but people will catch on to the idea. Company culture “should” come from the top, but sometimes we need to make some positive minor tweaks to help it along.
What about if the boss is late? If he or she is an integral part of the meeting you will have to wait. (This doesn’t mean you can’t “tactfully” remind them an hour before of the upcoming meeting.) If they are there just to observe, start on time and you can catch them up after the meeting. A good boss will not mind.
- Finish on time. If you start on time, finish on time and people will like coming to your meetings because you respect their time and there is a reasonable chance they can schedule something 15 minutes after your meeting and be there for it. The second thing people hate most is when the meeting runs longer than planned. Many times people mentally check out “on time” and start thinking all those thoughts we brought up in the beginning of this article. As a supervisor you should be able to look at your watch or the clock on the wall and keep the meeting in motion and on time. By the way, the first thing people hate is: unproductive meetings – so do your best to meet the goals you set!
- Solve major problems first. This is a way to ensure meetings are productive. The worst thing that can happen is that five minutes before the scheduled end of the meeting, the supervisor says, “Okay, I know it’s late, but we have a real problem we have to address.” You are screwed. Why wasn’t that discussed prior? Why wasn’t it prioritized as the first item on the agenda if it was so important? As you are preparing for the meeting, think about what needs to be discussed and set the time for that. If you get some peripherals covered as well, great. But get the important stuff done first.
- Have a note taker. Some schools of thought say you should have a “task master,” a “time keeper,” a “meeting manager,” etc. You should be able to do all those things yourself if you are a decent supervisor, but you need a good note keeper. It’s very difficult to take good notes and run a meeting well. And the notes of the meeting go out the next day. Not a week later – the next day! The value of the notes decrease every day they are later. By the way, the note taker does not have to be one of the people in your working group. Executive assistants or secretaries are far better than most at taking notes.
- Summarize what you heard. This one is critical and makes the most profound difference. Depending on the size of your meeting, save 5-7 minutes at the end where you summarize what you heard. The most effective way to do this is to start with the first person on your right (or left) and say, “Okay, Bob, from what I heard today, you are going to …………….” and you tell him (and everyone) what you two agreed on in the meeting. If there are any questions from Bob about it, you answer them immediately. Then you go around the entire table (this works well with groups of 12 or under) and you “touch” everyone the exact same way. Even the quiet person who had nothing to say during the meeting, you say, “Diane, you were quiet today, which is fine, but do you have any questions or comments for today’s meeting?” Now, everyone in the room knows exactly what they are responsible for, and they know that you know it as well. Nobody leaves the room saying, “I wonder what he meant by that.” It’s amazing what this will do for you and your team.
When you do this on a regular basis, people expect it and they know they will always have a chance to ask a question on any topic if they need to. This works well in any meeting, but is absolutely necessary in a weekly staff meeting. Try it. It truly helps everyone.
As much as we don’t like to have meetings, they are an important part of getting things done in an expeditious manner while keeping those involved informed. The goal is to have fewer meetings and all of them should be productive and start and end on time. Do that, and people will want to come to your meetings. Now, wouldn’t that be a nice change of pace?