Leaders: Why Your Meetings Suck and What to Do About It
If excruciating meetings were a thing pre-COVID, they are so much worse now that most of us are meeting virtually. My executive coaching clients are reporting that they are booked back-to-back-to-back on video calls. If the quantity of your meetings cannot be helped (but it can!), let’s look at the quality of the meetings that you are running and some easy fixes.
Many organizations we have worked with endure the triple whammy of meetings that are (1) too frequent, (2) poorly timed, and (3) badly run, leading to losses in productivity, collaboration, and well-being for both groups and individuals. Source: HBR: Stop the Meeting Madness 2017
The dreaded status update
This is listed first because it is the most important aspect of your meetings that needs changing. I know, I know! It has to be done—each department has to report their numbers or project update or whatever. But imagine for a moment that each time one of the leaders in the meeting began their update, everyone else got up and left the meeting. Would people leaving the meeting just as their peer began their report impact the productivity of the meeting? Yes, of course! Well, I am sorry to have to say this, but mentally, that is exactly what is happening as long as leaders insist on the round-robin style of updates. People are mentally leaving the meeting as soon as they are done with their own department update. This meeting habit needs to be reimagined ASAP.
I know you can resolve this because you and your team are super smart; you can reimagine this part of the meeting.
A few examples: You could split the team up into pairs prior to the meeting and have each of them report on their partner’s department instead of their own. Fun! Or, you could move a portion (like the numbers or status) of the update to your one-to-one meeting with that department head and have them cover a short and more interesting aspect of their update in the group meeting.
Starting late and running over
Here’s the thing…your published meeting time is, at its core, a promise. Starting late, passively allowing people to arrive late, or running overtime is breaking a promise. With the exception of an “emergency” situation, your meetings should start right on time and end right on time, every time. I know, easily said, hard to do. But making this simple change has a double benefit; it both makes your meetings more efficient, and it is an easy way to honor and respect the time of your team, building trust.
Your meetings lack novelty
You are probably thinking, “Who cares about novelty?” Or, “I don’t have time for novelty!” But understanding the human brain’s need for novelty is critical to your ultimate success as a leader. Here is the bottom line: if you don’t have your team’s attention, then there is no point in having a meeting in the first place. The brain of each member of your team is scanning for new, novel, interesting things, and is checking-out when something is old or predictable.
This is such an easy fix, and fixing it has innumerable benefits.
One way to fix it is to simply dedicate 10 minutes of learning to each hour of meeting. Take some time in advance to prepare what I call a “tiny topic” and engage your team with that content. Start with universally appealing and relevant topics like time management strategies, dealing with difficult people, or productivity. Present a little content and then have some questions ready to engage their thoughts and strategies. It is easiest to start with topics that you feel confident about. Later, once the team gets used to this 10 minutes of novelty, you can take it up a notch; for example, you can assign a book that you read together and discuss over time or assign members of your team tiny topics in their areas of expertise. Do this if you want your team to be more engaged, learn useful strategies, connect with each other more, bond, and pay more attention in your meetings.