If there's anything people hate even more than meetings, it might be articles about why people hate meetings. Still reading, even after that sentence? Well, you'll be relieved to know that hating meetings is usually justified, at least to a degree. One way to get control of the problem is to make clear how often we do things that make our meetings dysfunctional.
A Pain Scale for Meetings can help. If we can rate the degree of frustration we experience on a meeting-by-meeting basis, we can recognize trends and gradually make corrections. Below is a list of "pain points" commonly found in meetings — things we do, or don't do, or do badly, that make our meetings painful.
Here's a way to use the list. For each meeting, score 1-5 points for each incident on the list that occurs during your meeting, assigning more points for more severe or more frequent incidents. For regular meetings — weekly or daily — track the score over time and try to drive it zero, meeting by meeting, in any way Most meetings could be shorter,
less frequent, and more
productive than they areyou can. If you aren't in a position to affect the frequency, duration, or intensity of some of these incidents, tracking them might still be useful. You might have the necessary influence in another meeting you lead, now or someday.
So here's a list of pain points.
- The agenda was unrealistically long. They can't be serious.
- Because attendees had no opportunity to contribute to the agenda, important items were omitted, and we spent time on trivia instead.
- Attendees had no chance to prepare because the agenda wasn't distributed in advance.
- Attendees had no chance to prepare because there was no agenda.
- The agenda was available only in hardcopy, and only at the meeting. Seriously?
- The agenda had so many diverse topics that the invitation list was bloated. Most of us had to sit through a third of the meeting that we knew nothing about and cared about even less.
- The meeting chair didn't invite the right people.
- The right people were invited but they had to leave before we got to the part of the agenda we needed them for.
- The right people were invited but they couldn't attend due to conflicts with another meeting.
- The right people were invited but didn't attend for some unknown reason.
- Too many people attended. There was very little time to offer our opinions or to add information to the conversation.
- Some people kept harping on the same old issues even though they knew we couldn't do anything about those issues until next month.
- The meeting descended into a blamefest.
- We took too many trips down too many of the same old rabbit holes.
- We couldn't start on time because the meeting before us ran overtime.
- Yet again we covered the same already-covered ground.
- We couldn't resolve an important open issue because we didn't have the information we needed. Again.
- Some people were attending in the room, and some were dialed in by telephone, but the people dialed in couldn't hear clearly enough what the people in the room were saying, so we had to keep repeating things.
- The people who dialed in couldn't see the slides or the flip charts, and someone had to recite descriptions to them.
- We met in person when a phone meeting would have done just as well. Might even have been better.
- One of the people dialed in had a dog that felt compelled to participate. Probably the dog was objecting to the descriptions of the slides.
- Another dialed-in attendee had a crying baby who also seemed not to like the descriptions of the slides.
- Another dialed-in attendee was on a mobile phone connection that kept dropping, so when she reconnected we had to keep describing what happened while the connection was broken.
- The ventilation system was so noisy that even the people who were attending in the room couldn't hear everyone.
- It was a lunch meeting, but I arrived two minutes late and there wasn't enough food.
- It was a lunch meeting, and even though I ordered vegetarian, someone must have taken a vegetarian lunch who didn't order one, because there wasn't one for me.
- The meeting chair, acting as facilitator, didn't (and probably still doesn't) know how to facilitate. People just started talking without being recognized and the chair did nothing about it.
- Some people took too much time to say unimportant things, while other people got no time to say important things.
- Colin just likes hearing himself talk. Nobody else does.
- Some people didn't pay attention at the meeting, and later claimed that they weren't told about changes in the plan.
- Too many people were "stepping out" to take calls or whatever it was they did.
- The handouts didn't arrive until halfway through the meeting, so even though we juggled the agenda to delay the item that needed the handouts, we still lost time and suffered through confusion.
- The room was so cold I had to go back to my office for my coat.
- It was a standup meeting, probably intended to keep it short, but the meeting was still too long, and worse, we were standing the whole time. Except the people who were dialed in. They probably sat. Tomorrow I'll dial in.
- The meeting chair's boss dropped in unexpectedly, causing everyone to become guarded, except Alfred, one of the chair's rivals for promotion, who started bringing up embarrassing but irrelevant issues.
- The two people at the far end of the table kept whispering to each other about who knows what.
- Colin arrived ten minutes late, as usual, and asked for a recap, wasting everyone's time.
This list ought to get you started. If there are additional items you need for your painful meetings, feel free to add them. Top Next Issue
Do you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
- Trips to Abilene
- When a group decides to take an action that nobody agrees with, but which no one is willing to question,
we say that they're taking a trip to Abilene. Here are some tips for noticing and preventing trips to Abilene.
- Finding the Third Way
- When a team is divided, and agreement seems out of reach, attempts to resolve the conflict usually focus
on the differences between the contrasting positions. Focusing instead on their similarities can be
a productive technique for reaching agreement.
- Start the Meeting with a Check-In
- Check-ins give meeting attendees a chance to express satisfaction or surface concerns about how things
are going. They're a valuable aid to groups that want to stay on course, or get back on course when needed.
- Chronic Peer Interrupters: III
- People who habitually interrupt others in meetings must be fairly common, because I'm often asked about
what to do about them. And you can find lots of tips on the Web, too. Some tips work well, some generally
don't. Here are my thoughts about four more.
- Brainstorming and Speedstorming: I
- Recent research suggests that brainstorming might not be as effective as we would like to believe it
is. An alternative, speedstorming, might have some advantages for some teams solving some problems.
See also Effective Meetings and Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 29: Time Slot Recycling: The Risks
- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
- Errors of reasoning are pervasive in everyday thought in most organizations. One of the more common errors is called the Fallacy of Division, in which we assume that attributes of a class apply to all members of that class. It leads to ridiculous results. Available here and by RSS on April 5.
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