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Meetings That Matter – And Not One More

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When I left my full-time job at Mass General Hospital a few years ago, I knew I’d miss my colleagues and having ready access to the IT department. But there was something I knew I would NOT miss – spending endless hours each week in meetings. It was liberating to have all of that time back to invest purposefully on whatever I determined were my priorities.

It seems this problem is epidemic. It turns out that many of my executive coaching clients grapple not only with having too many meetings, but managing the ones they need to have effectively. Fortunately, with a bit of mindfulness, this is low-hanging fruit and there are several success stories.

There is Bruce, a strategic planner who had a goal of getting home for dinner with his growing family each night. At first, he dismissed this as an unreachable aspiration. But a simple review of his calendar revealed an important discovery. When he started his job years ago, he served on several committees with the aim of familiarizing himself with the business and getting to know his colleagues. Those goals were accomplished years ago, yet he never re-evaluated his need to continue attending these meetings. Because he worked with surgeons, these mostly were held before and after normal business hours. He decided he could step off three committees, freeing up two evenings and one morning a week. That allowed him to be home for dinner four nights a week. On the morning he was freed up, he started making the kids a special breakfast and started a new family tradition they all treasure.

Of course, there are many meetings that do need to happen. But often they can be managed more efficiently and effectively. Leaders resort to extreme means to reign in the time spent in meetings including insisting every attendee drink copious amounts of liquid and remain standing throughout with the hope that their discomfort will move things along faster.

Many times, I have sat in mind-numbingly dull meetings calculating the salaries of the people sitting in the room as talking heads drone on, one after the other. They are sneaking peeks at their smart phones, looking out the window, editing documents – anything but listening and contributing. As these people are often C-level execs and highly paid professionals, the tally is often well into the thousands of dollars for that single meeting. The key problem is that meeting organizers often don’t consider who is in the room and what they have to offer. So they don’t get the value of their contribution.  There are a few things you can do to liven up the discussion and extract more value in shorter amounts of time even if you don’t choose to make your attendees suffer physical discomfort.

1. Many meetings are set up for presentations, not interaction. What value do these high priced professionals add if they are not given a chance to offer their expertise and advice?  Solution: Consider who is in the room and how to make the highest and best use of that talent. Shape the agendas to invite meaningful input from all participants. Facilitate the meeting with that goal in mind.

2.  People are smart. They can read financial documents and other pieces of static information. Rather than waste time having people present information that can easily be read in advance of the meeting, send out the information with three key discussion points. Ask people to read the background data and come prepared to discuss its implications on the organization and what to do about it. One of my coaching clients calculated that these simple changes shaved about 40% off the time his board members needed to spend in their monthly meetings, freeing them up to work on initiatives of strategic importance to the organization.

3. Focus on the outcome. Ask yourself the simple question: what do I want to get out of this meeting? Then design the agenda to drive toward that result.

What meeting management techniques have made you more effective?

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