Saturday, April 05, 2008

Are You a Meetaholic?

Do you call meetings without the attendees knowing what the meeting is about? Do your meetings go on until 'question mark?' Do your meetings cover multiple topics, none of which gain resolution? Have you ever called a meeting to discuss coaching or disciplinary issues? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have a complex called ''meetaholism." It's a common affliction which affects many managers spanning every industry. But there's hope for you and everyone else out there. Follow these 12 steps to defeating meetaholism:

Step one: Stop calling unnecessary meetings. If you can't define why you need to meet other than because ''well, we haven't in a while,'' then you don't need to.

Step two: Hold meetings to conquer one set of problems. The broader the spectrum of your meeting, the less focused your participation will be.

Step three: Codify your meeting announcements. I use a simple Who, Where, When, Why, How posting to show clearly who should attend, where it will be, when it will be (start AND finish), what the single purpose is, and the meeting format (brainstorm, correction of errors, etc)

Step four: Hold yourself and your attendees to time frames. I know some managers who use an egg timer to constrain participants which is a bit militant for me, but necessary in some situations. If you have one or two very chatty associates who always seem to run long or go off topic, assign them the task of taking notes/minutes - you'll be surprised how concise and to the point they'll become.

Step five: Keep it short. I once had a manager who announced at the beginning of every meeting he attended that he would be there for 30 minutes and only 30 minutes. His philosophy spawned from over 40 years of experience during which he probably attended thousands of meetings which taught him that after the half hour mark, most meetings break down into a cluttered mess. Following step two will aid with this immensely.

Step six: Use meetings to solve problems, not to remedy violations of policies. I've been to many meetings where the central theme was ''We/you all need to stop/start doing thus and so.'' Airing out coaching issues in a meeting format will achieve little other than whiplash from bobbing-head syndrome (ever look around and see everyone's head nodding and know that it's only for show?). Praise in public, coach in private. Real accountability is next to impossible to attain otherwise.

Step seven: Encourage and expect participation. Meetings are for communication and idea exchange. There should not be a soapbox nor a podium in the room- those are for presentations and Q&A sessions. A certain degree of 'controlled informality' will help to get folks talking. Call out individuals who are keeping quiet and ask for opinions on ideas that have been presented in order to keep everyone on topic.

Step eight: Create 'Go-Dos' from meeting notes and 'Go-Do' them! All this great communication and planning is for naught if no one actually executes. Furthermore, your attendees will be reluctant to work as hard during your meetings if they repeatedly see that the fruits of their labor are rotting on the ground.

Step nine: Think through your list of attendees. Keep it down to only the individuals who can really contribute, have information which will assist in your process, or who will be heavily affected by the outcomes generated. Any individuals who don't have anything to contribute to your meeting yet wish to be kept in the loop (or you wish to keep them in the loop) should be sent notes. Remember that, in the end, meetings cost time and time costs money.

Step ten: Leave the food in the fridge. This is time to confer, not dine. Food is a distraction and hampers speech. If your meetings are running so long that people are getting hungry, refer to steps two, four, and five.

Step eleven: Post your agenda. Make it as big as you reasonably can. This will add structure and will facilitate momentum. My postings usually include the problem being solved, a space for initial comments from every attendee with their opinion on how to solve it (depending upon how many attendees), and the goal for the session.

Step twelve: Know the difference between a meeting and a progress report. I hold or attend progress reports every day. Numbers from the previous day, week, or month are told, upcoming event details are announced, and policy changes are read. THIS IS NOT A MEETING. Keep these two separated like oil and water. They are detrimental to each other and when combined nullify anything good which could have come out of either of them.

Well, those are the steps to ridding yourself of this malicious illness. Do these things and your associates will thank you, your peers will admire you, and your bosses will cherish you. I'm sure there are more than 12 steps to this process, but this meeting has gone on long enough!

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Fort Smith, Arkansas
...just narcissistic enough to own a blog.