Making more of meetings

Entrepreneur and master business coach Dominic Monkhouse outlines the basics for making sure meetings are worth the time and effort

Business meetings should be about solving big problems and making hard decisions. Yet too often, meetings squander time and add little value to the company or employees. If you treat time as an asset, then you should only schedule essential meetings.

  • The purpose of meetings

A meeting must have context and purpose. If those aren’t clear, cancel it. If you invite people to a meeting, it should be obvious why you’re taking up their precious time and the desired outcome should be crystal clear. Empower your employees by telling them that if a meeting request has no clear context or desired outcome, they don’t have to attend it.

Meetings are often used to communicate when communication could’ve been accomplished through an email or a video. Don’t use meetings to just communicate. Getting 30 people in a room to announce something is talking; that’s not a meeting. The value of a meeting is in bringing people together to brainstorm, to prioritise a problem or opportunity and to gather input to make smart decisions.

Meetings usually have the wrong combination of people attending. Think carefully about who needs to be in any given meeting and why. Usually, you don’t need more than seven people in the room. More than this and the meeting slows down, resulting in poorer decisions.

  • Cut back on the number of meetings

Ask your people, “What does a great meeting look like?” After listening to their response, ask, “How many meetings do you attend that look like that?” It’s likely that only a small percentage of their meetings will resemble their ideal meeting because most meetings are completely pointless.

Tell your teams to find ways to cut superfluous meetings or reinvent the current ones to be effective, inspirational, productive and worthwhile. Reducing meetings may be the best thing for your company.

Employees who are in endless meetings never get any work done. Or they’re answering emails during the meeting and are totally zoned out. If employees feel they have to do other work in meetings, then they’re in too many meetings. I once consulted with a business that had a few employees who were in back-to-back meetings four days a week. They complained that they couldn’t get any of their work done nor meet their KPIs. We freed these employees from needless meetings and their productivity skyrocketed.

Most meetings can be shorter. If you stay focused, you can probably accomplish what’s done in a one-hour meeting in 30 minutes. What your employees could accomplish if they weren’t in meetings could be a game-changer for your company. Trim the fat and let them focus on the meat.

  • What if meetings were optional?

A great exercise is to make all meetings optional. If you do this for a while, you’ll learn a lot about your company. Which individuals attend nearly all optional meetings and, conversely, which ones very rarely attend? Which meetings continue because people want to attend them, and they’re useful – and vice versa? The cream will rise to the top. Unproductive meetings will disappear and what you thought was essential will be exposed as inconsequential, or easily replaced with an email, document or video.

In a meeting, we have to debate, disagree, say our piece and then commit. When we leave a meeting, we can’t complain and moan. Once the meeting is over, we must support the agreed-upon decision. Otherwise, you’re acting like a small child, not an adult. Gossiping, divisive complaining, manoeuvring, scheming, dissenting and conspiring have no place in a healthy business. People are free to continue a debate and raise objections in subsequent meetings. But continued triangulation should be forbidden and enforced with the penalty of termination.

Appoint the right chairperson

I’ve observed that meetings tend to be chaired by the most senior person in the room because the majority of leaders think that they should. But if that’s not your strength, let someone else do it. Find someone skilled at running meetings and let them facilitate.

I’m bad at running meetings. I don’t follow the rules. I go off on tangents. Most importantly, I won’t change, so I always get someone else to run my meetings – problem solved. Again, ask the staff what great meetings would look like, and then design the meetings based on their input.

Business meetings should be about solving big problems and making hard decisions. Yet too often, meetings squander time and add little value to the company or employees. If you treat time as an asset, then you should only schedule essential meetings.

This article is an extract from Mind Your F**king Business
by Dominic Monkhouse

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