There is a fairly wide consensus that meetings are evil: the work of middle managers with too little to do, meetings derail everyone’s ability to get any meaningful amount of work done. They foster indifference, lassitude and keyboard bashing.
If it were up to your direct reports, there would no longer be any meetings. Ever.
However, as a manager with goals to accomplish, you have no choice but to schedule a few meetings here and there. The trick, then, is to figure out how to make meetings more like efficient exchanges of information and project updates and less like an inquisition, complete with various medieval torture devices.
Keep It Simple
A survey of Fortune 500 companies has revealed some success on the interminable meeting front. The three basic rules for meetings are as follows:
- Have an agenda.
- Know how long the meeting should last.
- End with concrete action items for everyone.
If you stick too closely to these rules, meetings become lists of bullet points barked out of a megaphone from the front of the room, with everyone fleeing once they have their assignments. This may be efficient communication, but it certainly doesn’t buoy the morale of the troops when they head back to their offices and outposts.
Meetings aren’t just about the rapid dissemination of business data and to-do lists for the rest of the team. Meetings are opportunities for engagement — chances for team members to actually interact with one another. Meetings are for sharing ideas, airing (and solving) problems, and strengthening connections. And while that may sound more like a weekend BBQ than a staff powwow, there’s something to be said for a lighter touch in running a meeting.
That doesn’t mean you should show up to meetings in a clown suit with a bicycle horn and a fresh pie. Though a little laughter always creates a more genial atmosphere, meetings aren’t opportunities for you to try out your new stand-up act. They provide avenues for management to build more cohesive teams. So whatever you can do to dispel the sense of dread that precedes most meetings will help attendees feel more in control of their time.
Studies have shown that group laughter leads to better rapport between team members, which, in turn, increases interaction and productivity. So, when you lead off with a joke and someone else in the room piggybacks off that joke into another, you’re not wasting precious meeting time — you’re actually bringing the team closer together. Just don’t spend the whole hour one-upping each other with jokes.
Pacing Is Important
Any public speaker will tell you that knowing how to read a room is a vitally important part of speaking effectively. It isn’t enough to have a brilliant deck of PowerPoint slides with tight commentary. You have to know how to speak at a pace that fully engages your audience (even though its members may be suffering varying levels of attention deficit), and you have to know how to adjust your patter to match the mood in the room. This ability is also important in running a successful (yet brief) meeting. Know your team; know how long you can let them run with any discussion for all the ideas to be presented. Know who will derail a topic and have tactics to keep them focused. Know who will volunteer to assist you. Know who has good ideas but is too shy to speak up.
In the end, fewer meetings mean more productive time for your staff. If meetings are unavoidable, make the most of the shared time they facilitate. Help team members bond and appreciate one another, and let them find joy in working together.
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