Think about all the meetings you attend in the course of a week – a month – a year. Then consider this fact: It is estimated that half of all meeting time in the United States whether business or ministry is wasted time! Henry Ford once said that the problem with wasted time is that there is no waste left over on the factory floor that can be visibly seen. And time is the one commodity that none of us can get back so if indeed half of all meeting time is waste, I want to reclaim that time for more important things. Many of us have read the book “Death by Meeting” and we instinctively understand the title. That says it all.
Meeting productivity can be seen as a function of three key elements: How we behave in meetings; having a tight agenda with specified outcomes along with a good facilitator; and ensuring that there is timely execution on action items.
All of us have been guilty at one time or another of “checking out” of meetings. We check out because there is not a tight agenda – wandering meetings are boring – and because we know that there probably will not be timely execution on action items anyway. That is why all three elements need to be addressed together.
Here is a set of meeting behaviors that I observed in a recent organization I visited. It says a lot about how they view meetings:
We engage in robust dialogue. This means that we can discuss any issue without personal attack or hidden agenda.
Our meetings start and end on time.
Team members are responsible to attend as scheduled.
One person speaks at a time, while others actively listen.
Everyone actively participates.
All ideas are encouraged and considered.
The Meeting COMPASS (TM) has been completed and is followed.
We leave the room as we found it.
Action items are clearly defined and completed as assigned.
Cell phones and pagers are turned off and only used during breaks or when meeting is over.
This organization obviously has raised the bar on how they do meetings!
Notice that one of their commitments is to use Meeting COMPASS which is a way to format meetings for maximum effectiveness. Basically the meeting compass (a proprietary tool) ensures that before a meeting is held, the purpose is clear, the outcomes are specified, the agenda is set and necessary preparation is done. With that kind of a roadmap (anyone can do this), and a facilitator, the meeting is kept on track, the agenda is followed, people are prepared and outcomes are clear.
The facilitator then records all action items and decisions made. Action items include the action, the person responsible and the date the action must be completed. These are put into an excel spread sheet
This brings me to the third issue – timely execution. The first thing that happens at the next meeting is a review of action items from the previous meeting. Using the excel spread sheet listing those action items, each item gets a color: Red (action was not completed – ouch), yellow (action was not fully completed – hmm) or Green (action was completed – great). It only takes a few meetings for folks to get a Red or Yellow to figure out that you are committed to execution rather than just talk.
We are working to up the level of meeting excellence in our own organization and are learning from others who do it better. How are you doing in your meetings? I for one don’t want to waste time in unproductive meetings.