Tackling the Meeting Monster

During a recent executive coaching session, my client tapped open the calendar on his iPad and, pointing to the vast amount of purple-shaded area exclaimed, “No wonder I can’t get any work done.  All I ever do is attend meetings!”

This “Meeting Monster” phenomenon is a common lament among executive coaching clients and one I’ve contemplated for many years.  My observation is that it frequently arises from an organization’s culture and not simply from an individual leader’s inability to manage their time.

For example, in the early stages of an organization’s growth it is important for everyone to be “in the loop.”  Everyone can be in a relatively small area.  It is easy to collaborate.  Every day is a meeting.

As organizations grow, however, being “in the loop” can become a status symbol.  “Not being included” can mean “Not being important.” With increasing size and productivity demands, organizations are pushed to re-think meetings, and especially to ask:  “Do all of us need to meet?”

As a result of asking this new question, the meeting focus can shift away from Status, Communication, and Inclusion to Critical Problem Solving and Crucial Communication.

Then, when a meeting is truly required and the purpose of the meeting has been defined, the next question is “Who should be included?”  What follows is a process I have found to be helpful in planning efficient meetings that lead to high-quality decisions.

Stakeholder Analysis

A stakeholder is anyone who has something to gain or lose from the outcome.  All stakeholders will receive meeting minutes showing all decisions made, the stakeholder responsible for each planned action, and estimated timing.

  1. List all who have a stake in the outcome.
  2. Does each who has a vested interest need to participate in person?
  3. Identify the critical-success stakeholders and confirm their presence at the meeting.
  4. Talk with all others who have a vested interest in the outcome.  Invite those stakeholders to keep up with progress via detailed meeting minutes that will be distributed within 24 hours after the meeting.  Many will appreciate the opportunity.

Agenda and Roles

  1. Pre-publish an agenda with meeting objectives and expected outcomes.  Send well in advance.  Put “communicate only” stakeholders in cc section of email notice.   Provide firm, realistic start and stop meeting times.  Grossly overestimate time required to prepare.
  2. Where appropriate, assign responsibilities/preparation tasks to team members.
  3. Ask in advance for someone to record actions, decisions, and responsibilities in minutes that will be distributed within 24 hours of meeting conclusion.
  4. Ask in advance for a meeting time keeper.

Facilitate the Meeting

  1. Start on time.
  2. Ban/limit phones, laptops.
  3. Food distracts.  Use only when it supports your purpose.
  4. Determine what tools, charts, equipment you need in advance and have it there.
  5. Stick to the agenda.  Re-state the purpose of the meeting and expected outcomes. 
  6. Encourage participation by all.  We can stifle innovation when not all ideas are voiced.
  7. Create a parking lot to capture issues to address off-line.
  8. Praise in public; criticize in private, especially when the person being criticized is not in the room.  Everyone is on the company team.
  9. Summarize meeting outcomes, action steps and responsibilities at meeting conclusion.

The facilitator’s role is to challenge, to be sure that assignments are realistic and measurable, and to determine whether additional support or resources are needed. 

We welcome your own stories and feedback about strategies you have used to tackle your “Meeting Monster” in your workplace.

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