As people often complain about bad meetings. By that they mean the time-wasting, unproductive ones. So here is my advice for eliminating your attendance from unproductive meetings without scoring demerit points.
One of the most regular complaints that I hear is that “I’ve got so many meetings, I don’t have time to get my work done”. To me, meetings are work, and they are to be a productive and efficient use of time. When they are sub-standard, they need to be rectified, just like any other tool or technique.
Work sometimes requires us to do things we would rather avoid. It is a choice as to whether to be an effective professional or just another mediocre employee. It is the same when it comes to meetings, including those called by others, be an effective professional or another mediocre employee. There is so much written on making your own meetings productive, I won’t address that topic. Instead, these are the things I do, and advise others to do, when they are invited to unproductive meetings:
- Ensure the meeting purpose is known before the meeting starts. If it is not made available, just ask for it. Without knowing the meeting purpose, it is difficult to decide that you are not required. Also, people who call meetings without a purpose will often not facilitate them well either. That will be compounded by meeting participants guessing what the purpose is, or to use it to meet their own needs.
- If you only need to know the meeting outcome and don’t need to participate, just ask for the meeting minutes or to be briefed after the meeting; one hour saved
- If you are only required for part of the meeting, ask for that part to be done first, so that you can excuse yourself afterwards; 45 minutes saved
- Ensure meeting notes are being taken. If they are not being taken, ask who is responsible for them. It may be appropriate to offer to do the minutes. Quick and simple is fine. I often type them during the meeting itself and send them out as “meeting notes”, another alternative is to send an image of hand-written notes. Without these notes, people will end up with different interpretations of decisions that they thought were clear, and action items won’t be owned and actioned.
- Ensure that action items are clear and assigned. Often something will be stated as an action, but it is not clear. At other times it is unpleasant and people won’t do it as they hope no-one will notice or someone else will do it. When there is an action item, everyone in the meeting should be clear on what it is, who is responsible and if it has a deadline, what it is. If it isn’t clear, get it clarified, then ensure it is noted.
- Ensure decisions are clarified and noted. Ideally, also take down a summary of the factors that influenced the decision.
- Assist with meeting facilitation, if necessary. People are often reluctant to facilitate meetings and often too lax at it. If that is the case assist them. Sometimes that will entail asking if issues can be taken offline; asking for irrelevant discussions to stop; asking for the issues to be clearly stated; and, if necessary, conducting conflict management. Though, this can only be done if the meeting purpose is clear, but then, if it isn’t clear, it is very valuable to get it agreed.
I’ve often wondered if people think I’ve stepped over the line with this, but whenever I’ve checked people have appreciated my input. So now, there is no excuse for sitting around idly during unproductive meetings. Instead, put your time to good use and make the meeting productive for everyone involved.
I’d love to know what you do to make meetings more productive.