We Must Stop Meeting Like This

By Chris Crouch

I’m going to get all literary on you today and make the statement that business meetings remind me of the classic opening sentence of Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities.” “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

However, let’s not buy into the widespread premise many professional complainers seem to espouse in our current epoch, “Meetings are a total waste of time!” This is at best a partially true statement. Admittedly, if you made up a big pie chart illustrating the “best of times” and the “worst of times” meetings for most businesses, the latter would definitely be the biggest part of the pie. All I am saying is that perhaps the complainers should allow for the fact that there is such a thing as a useful, productive and necessary meeting. Instead of complaining, get about the business of improving meetings. It doesn’t seem all that difficult to convert a meeting from the worst of times to the best of times.

Here are a few tips for conducting effective meetings.

Categorize the meeting and describe a successful outcome for the meeting in as few words as possible. For example, is it a gathering information meeting, a sharing information meeting, a planning meeting, a making a decision meeting, a solving a problem meeting, and so forth and so on? Once you categorize the meeting, it should be relatively easy to describe a successful outcome.

Before you set the meeting, have you thoroughly considered alternative methods for accomplishing your meeting goal? Would a memo work as well, a phone conversation, a conference call, or perhaps one-on-one conversations with key individuals? If not, who should attend the meeting and just as important, who should not be at the meeting?

Some corporate cultures encourage meeting planners to grossly over-invite meeting attendees for various irrational or illogical reasons. I understand that egos are egos and politics is politics in the corporate world, but try to keep attendees at a minimum.

Speaking of politics, whenever possible use the military model for your meeting communication protocol. Low-ranking member speaks first, next highest-ranking member speaks next, and on up the line with the top dog speaking last. Otherwise, you run the risk of shutting off the creativity, opinions and brains of everyone other than the highest-ranking member of the group.

Then do all the standard stuff, set a specific date, place, a starting time and an ending time. Hopefully these steps will free up plenty of time to figure out what Dickens meant later in his book when he said, “Not knowing how he lost himself, or how he recovered himself, he may never feel certain of not losing himself again.”

Chris Crouch is CEO of DME Training and Consulting and author of several books on improving productivity. Contact him through www.dmetraining.com.