“Doing nothing is very hard to do … you never know when you’re finished.” — Leslie Nielson
- Many of us have been in meetings that suck. If you’re just starting your career, you will be. This is what you have to look forward to:
- Many people are there. Many just because they’re afraid to miss some critical bit of information they need to do their job
- One or two people dominate all discussion, nobody talks, or everybody is talking over top of each other. The meeting chair has lost control.
- The meeting starts late, the meeting goes long, and/or the meeting gets side-tracked by inane or off-topic discussions
- The agenda is ignored, or there isn’t an agenda.
When I first got a the title of “team lead” and responsibility as a software developer, I took over a demoralized team that was on the edge of disappearing completely. The former lead’s idea of a meeting was to gather the half-dozen members together in the lab and go through his agenda: “What the f*** did you do this week? What the f*** are you doing next week? Get the f*** back to work.” Seriously. Not professional nor encouraging.
Ever played Buzz Word Bingo? Everybody gets at a sheet of paper with a grid. In each box is a current buzz word like “synergy” or “work smarter not harder”. As the presenter speaks each buzz word you keep track of it on your card. When you get a line or diagonal cross out, you win. We ran this is a lottery with each card costing a $1. The winner got the pot. This only works in those “all hands” meetings where there are enough bodies to cover yourself. Ours ran at about 600 people, in two shifts of 300. We had to drop the practise when the CEO noticed everybody was paying more attention than usual.
Here’s another game you can play during a boring meeting: calculate the burn rate. Take the average hourly salary of everybody in attendance, total up the cost, and multiply by the elapsed time. Many times you’ll be asking yourself if the meeting is worth its cost to your company.
Too often we have meetings because we think we have to, or to make up for a lack of good team communications that should be happening on a day-to-day basis, or to inflate somebody’s sense of power and importance. Badly run meetings are a waste of time, can demoralize a team, increase conflict and friction, and don’t make any progress forward. Well run meetings are empowering, effective, efficient, and a powerful communication tool. Meetings are valuable when they exchange information and ideas in an effective and timely manner.
Next time: What it takes to run a good meeting – setting clear goals