Have you ever been in a really horrible meeting? You sit there for hours thinking, I’ve got so much work to do and this is going nowhere. Worse than that, your peers and leaders are distracted by their phones buzzing, or department heads are arguing about which way to go with a particular idea and it reaches a heated, unprofessional level.
Years ago I worked for a book publisher. Once a quarter we had meeting to lay out the upcoming publishing plan for the next quarter. Approximately 20 people attended. There was a lot to cover in four hours or so. The first meeting I attended, I noticed a big, orange, bell (probably from a Pit game) positioned within reach of the president’s chair. Anyone in the room could ring the bell if someone went off scope of the meeting agenda. I remember a few times someone even rang the bell when the president drifted off course (to which everyone responded with laughter.)
Meetings are unavoidable. But there are some things you and your organization can embrace to ensure that the time spent paying salaries while people sit in meetings is worth the dollars spent.
1. Establish a new company policy—absolutely no devices (unless necessary for the meeting). Cell phones can be left at the employees’ desks. This includes the CEO and COO. No exceptions! Fewer distractions means attendees can apply themselves to the matter before them. Attentive listeners can resolve the problem at hand, and they are usually more creative thinkers without distractions.
2. Set an agenda and send it out ahead of schedule. (It doesn’t mean the attendees will read it, but you’ll have a set schedule to follow.) Keep the timeline tight. If you think you need an hour, cut it to 45 minutes. Tighter timelines will keep you on your toes and help you squeeze out distractions.
3. Ring the bell. Use the bell to keep the meeting on target. (Make it fun, but respectful.)
4. Approach your meeting like a math problem. Just like a teacher writes the math problem on the board, write the problem out for everyone to see. You’re looking for a solution, today.
5. Lead the meeting with high energy. You’ve got a lot to cover and a short amount of time to get it done. Show your excitement about the task ahead of you.
6. Assign a mediator. If you know strong personalities prevail in certain kinds of meetings, assign a mediator—a person who can navigate difficult areas of discussion with finesse.
7. Take a stand – don’t get comfortable in your chair. Stand up and present your case. Encourage others who are speaking to stand. It keeps people focused on what you’re doing, and what is being said.
Refuse to comply. The meeting doesn’t have to be a certain amount of time. It doesn’t have to conform to a typical meeting format. If you’re done and the challenge is resolved. Congratulate your team and dismiss them. The same is true if you hit a roadblock, dismiss the meeting with instruction for everyone to think about it and then reconvene with solutions.