A new survey out from the software company, Clarizen, states that U.S. employees are spending more time than ever – almost nine hours of the work week -- preparing for and attending meetings. What’s worse is that more than a third of those polled felt that these meetings were unnecessary and a waste of time.
Seeing this, it’s easy to understand why most employees have given up on the possibility of better meetings. Change can seem hopeless, but it’s not. The key for organizations and employees alike lies in questioning the practices that we have not examined before -- the myths that we hold as true.
Most people realize that meetings should have agendas, should stay on track, and should finish on time. In fact, if you were to ask your group these two questions, you’ll find that, for the most part, people know what needs to be done to have effective meetings.
- What do you wish were true about meetings you lead that isn’t true now?
- What do you wish were true about the meetings you attend that isn’t true now?
Try it, and you’ll find the lists to be almost identical. For example:
- Have an agenda and stick to it.
- Start and end on time.
- Manage the people who tend to dominate the conversation.
- Get more people involved in the conversation.
- Make decisions and get things moving.
- Don’t call a meeting if we don’t have anything to talk about.
- Do something about distractions.
This article is about items that will not be on either list. Here are the six biggest myths about meetings today:
Managers should run their own meetings.
If there are only five people in your meeting, run it yourself. If there are 20, no way. Your attention and devoted listening are too important for you to be distracted by trying to manage the conversation. Instead focus on: What value are you getting from the conversation; when does the group need your perspective; what feedback might you have for individuals in your group as you watch them interact in a group setting?
Writing the meeting summary is secretarial work.
People are running from one meeting to the next. Often your meeting ends only because the next group wants the meeting room. Unless you write concise, clear meeting summaries, what you talked about and decided in this meeting will disappear—and quickly. The person who summarizes the meeting has tremendous influence and power over the future. Find someone who has a gift for writing and understands the importance of getting a one-page summary out within an hour—this might be your best engineer, IT analyst, or salesperson.
Information sharing is a good use of time.
Meetings are about moving the organization forward. They are about making decisions, reaching alignment and orchestrating action. It’s rare that sharing information does any of these things. If information sharing dominates the agenda, you are not respecting the time and talent in the room. Target to spend only 10 to 15 percent of your time on sharing information.
You can count on people to do what they say they will do.
We all know that people do not keep their word. Good, hardworking, well-meaning people do not do what they say they will do because they are busy and working more hours than they want to work. Culturally, it’s okay…it’s just not a big deal anymore for people to be unreliable. If you want progress, you must ask people for specific commitments with dates, and you must follow up with them along the way.
PowerPoint always adds value to a meeting.
PowerPoint is wonderful for covering lots of information in a way people can follow. The question is: Do you want a presentation or a conversation? PowerPoint puts people into a default position of thinking about other things and not asking questions. They are basically waiting for the presentation to be over. Think about this in terms of project updates. Are you looking for a simple 10-minute update on how the project is going, or do you want a rich back-and-forth conversation about the project? Which approach allows your leadership team to truly support and impact the project?
Related: 5 Rules for Successful Meetings
Calling on people is harmful.
I get it. Do not call on people to embarrass, dominate, or control them. Do not put people on the spot or catch them off-guard. Still, if you want a balanced conversation that is rich with ideas and different points of view, you must call on people to get their insights if they’re not offering them on their own.
This is the perspective that almost everyone has when they walk into a meeting—I’ll speak if I feel like it. As a consequence, those who love to talk do, and those who don’t, don’t. How is that working for you so far?
Dispelling these myths and introducing change to your organization will be easier than you think. As we’ve seen from the Clarizen survey, you are not alone in the way that you feel – almost everyone wants meetings to be better. Take the first step now, and go out to find your allies. Change will come shortly after.