Make Meetings Work for You

Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything

John Kenneth Galbraith

Mr. Galbraith’s quote, pretty much sums up most everyone’s feelings about meetings. They are considered a waste of time and people generally feel they do not usuallylead to much productivity or action.  Despite this position, however, everyone continues to have meetings. Why?

For most meetings to be successful means that the leader has to be prepared to ensure that the meeting accomplishes three key aspects.

  1. Meetings meet an important filial need. People need to get together to communicate and share information with one another.
  2. Reflects the leadership of the “owner” of the meeting. Whether you want to have a long meeting to cover a lot of detail or a “stand up” meeting to make sure it is short, decide on your style and get it done
  3. Demonstrates success from week to week. I coached a CEO who would come in every week with a new topic at her senior staff meeting. Before her reports could share feedback from last week’s meeting, she was onto a new topic.

In order to maximize the success of your staff meeting there is some interesting research that was done in the 1980’s by a couple of psychologist, William Titus and Garold Stasser. They wanted to find out how people communicated in groups and following their research, they reached two interesting conclusion about meetings in the workplace including:

  1. Most of what was discussed was already known by the key members of the group and that people used the meeting not for sharing new information freely but for firming up their positions so that they could get more support for their position.
  2. The people who had new information failed to share it with the group since the comfort level of the meeting already focused on what was known and to introduce new information would disrupt the flow of the meeting. People wanted to avoid being embarrassed or questioned about their new information and preferred to not run the risk of getting called out.

The result is that decision coming out of most meetings wind up being “groupthink” where already reported, rehashed and safe decisions have already been defaulted and the meeting only goes as far as to reinforce those already established ideas.

So what can an insightful and strong leader do to change the context and outcome of her meetings. Here are a couple of ideas…

  1. Know what outcome you are working towards before you go to the meeting. One of my favorite TV shows is “The Closer” In it, Deputy Los Angeles Police Chief Brenda Lee Johnson, never goes into an interrogation without knowing the likely outcome. She’ll quiz her staff, check over the evidence and talk to witnesses, but when she goes into that cell block to talk to a perpetrator, she knows what she is going to find out.
  2. Like Chief Johnson, survey your staff before the meeting about their opinions about a topic of discussion you are going to bring up, whether it is new or a review of a previously discussed item. By making your staff commit to their idea before you have the meeting you ensure that you get fresh thinking which will help you and your team make a sound decision.
  3. Talk last and not first. I’ve seen so many leaders “take the lead” in a discussion with the end result being that everyone else follows up on what the leader says and if someone else is courageous enough to express a different idea, they may get a scornful look, not from the leader, but from other colleagues.
  4. Make a checklist of things you want to achieve and how you want to do it. Much like pilots use a checklist before takeoff, a great leader will make sure that all the items on the agenda including how decisions are made and are implemented are followed up in a standardized manner. This ensures the consistency of the meeting and creates a routine that everyone can rely on to get their work done.

Think about your meetings as a way to improve the spirit, vitality and effectiveness of your team members. Meetings don’t have to be a drag on everyone’s energy. Try out these tips, modify them as you may, but make sure you get the job done in a way that is efficient and effective.

©Richard S. Citrin. All rights reserved