Management: Meetings Myth And Waste

These myths have cost companies billions of dollars in wasted payroll money.
Myth #1) Structure spoils spontaneity.
I once attended a two-day long disaster that easily cost over $40,000. Thirty people spent the first hour seeking an issue to discuss, then spent the next 15 hours arguing over insolvable problems. When I asked the manager who called the meeting, “Where’s the agenda?” the reply was, “I didn’t want to spoil the spontaneity by imposing a structure.”
Reality: If spontaneity were a universally sound business practice we would build buildings without blueprints. Of course, no smart business leader works without a plan.
The Fix: Set a goal and then prepare an agenda. Ideally, this agenda should be so clear, complete, and specific that someone else could use it to lead the meeting to obtain the accomplish the goal.
Myth #2: Since it’s my meeting I should do all the talking.
Some meetings are run like a medieval court. The chairperson sits on a verbal throne while the subjects sit in respectful silence. The big talker justifies this by thinking: if the other people in the meeting knew anything worthwhile, they’d be leading the meeting.
Reality: If you’re the only one talking, you’re working too hard. In addition, realize that most people protect themselves from extended monologues by sending their thoughts off on a holiday. That is, no one is paying attention to you: they’re busy daydreaming, doodling, or dreaming.
The Fix: Convey large amounts of information by a memo or email. Then call a meeting based on participant driven activities that test or reinforce comprehension.
Myth #3: Meetings are free.
Most meetings are paid for with soft money. That is, it’s money that has already been spent for wages. In addition, no purchase request is necessary. No budget needs to be approved. All someone has to do is call a meeting.
Reality: Meetings are very expensive. They use people’s time, and payroll is the largest part of running a business. When people hold bad meetings, they waste the most important resource in a business – the time people that spend working to earn a profit for the company.
The Fix: Design meetings to earn a profit. After all, a meeting is a business activity, not a company picnic.

Hidden Traps in Meetings
People who take meetings for granted risk being a victim of a trap. Here they are and how to avoid them.
If you have sat through a few bad meetings, you must have experienced the following traps. Here they are and how to fix them.
1) People think they are experts.
Many people tell me that they know how to hold a meeting. Actually, all they do is host a party. They invite guests, provide treats, and preside over a conversation. People talk. People eat. And nothing happens. Or, if they somehow manage to reach an agreement, no one implements it.
What to do: Learn how to lead a real meeting. Schedule a workshop or buy a book. When results really matter, hire a facilitator. Recognize that there are modern tools that help people make methodical progress toward results. These tools are practical and easy to use. Of course, you have to know what they are in order to use them. Call me (714-528-1300) for details.
2) People think they are inspiring.
Many people believe that long-winded announcements impress others. Actually, it’s the opposite. A long lecture quickly becomes a boring (and sometimes offensive) harangue. Why? Most employees want an active role in contributing to the business, and thus listening to a speech feels like a waste of time.
What to do: Design meetings that give the attendees opportunities to contribute. Plan questions that direct thinking toward the results that you want. Use activities that help people make decisions. Distribute announcements in letters, memos, or E-mails. Or, if you must use a meeting, keep announcements brief (less than a few minutes).
3) People think others agree with them.
Many people rely on nods, smiles, and eye contact to measure acceptance. Actually, most employees will do anything to appease a boss. And if the boss seems to be upset, the employees will become even more agreeable. Then, once the meeting ends, the employees will do one of three things: 1) forget the lecture, 2) ignore the message, or 3) sabotage the idea.
What to do: Conduct meetings by a process that everyone considers to be fair. Use consensus to reach agreements and make decisions. People will accept decisions that they helped make.
4) People think others are clairvoyant.
Many people call meetings without an agenda expecting that everyone will arrive sharing their vision for what needs to be done. Actually, everyone brings their private hopes, fears, and vision to the meeting. Without a clear agenda, the result is something between chitchat and chaos, depending upon the complexity of the issue.
Note: A vague agenda, such as a list of topics, is almost as useless as no agenda.
What to do: Write out your goal for the meeting. Then prepare an agenda that is so complete someone else could use it to run the meeting without you. Specify each step and provide a time budget. Send the agenda at least a day before the meeting so that the attendees can use it to prepare. Call key participants before the meeting to check if they have questions or want to talk about the agenda.
5) People think meetings are necessary.
Many people respond to every emergency, surprise, or twitch by calling a meeting. Actually, a meeting is a special (and expensive) process. It should be used only to obtain results that require the efforts of a group of people working as a team. A meeting is NOT a universal cure for everything. Meetings held for the wrong reasons, waste everyone’s time.
What to do: Challenge every meeting for its ability to earn a profit for your business. That is, make sure the value of the results is greater than the cost of holding a meeting. If any other activity can accomplish the same result, use that other activity.

Here are ten fundamental concepts that characterize an effective meeting.
1) Definition: A meeting is a business activity where select people gather to perform work that requires a team effort.
2) A meeting, like any business event, succeeds when it is preceded by planning, characterized by focus, governed by structure, and controlled by a budget.
3) Short meetings free people to work on the essential activities that represent the core of their jobs. In contrast, long meetings prevent people from working on critical tasks such as planning, communicating, and learning.
4) Three things guarantee an unproductive meeting: poor planning, lack of appropriate process, and hostile culture. Effective leaders attend to all of these to create an effective meeting.
5) Effective meetings require sharing control and making commitments.
6) The ultimate goals of every meeting are agreements, decisions, or solutions. Meetings held for other reasons seldom produce anything of value.
7) Unprepared participants will spend their time in the meeting preparing for the meeting.
8) It is better to spend a little time preparing for solutions than to spend a lot of time fixing problems.
9) Meetings are an investment of resources and time that should earn a profit.
10) A meeting can be led from any chair in the room. And if it’s your meeting, you want it to be your chair.