Five Meetings Your Employees Will Thank You for Killing or Fixing

Group meeting in a conference room
GettyImages/Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury

The worst meeting I ever suffered through was a so-called strategy session facilitated by an individual who was most definitely not a strategist. A little alarm bell rang when he started the meeting by having us all pick up a pair of drumsticks from the pile in front of him on the table. He then instructed us to find our own beat and start drumming it out on our notebooks. After a few awkward moments, things grew more awkward as he encouraged this international group of executives to hold our beat and improvise if we felt like it.

The drumming was the highlight.

The balance of the meeting continued through some of the worst template-type strategic planning activities I have ever had the misfortune to participate in as a professional. The low point (yes, lower than the drumming) occurred as he goaded us into a bidding war over how many new customers we could land next year as a result of our new “mission” and “vision” we had so cavalierly crafted and voted upon after the first 90-minutes. At some point, he threw out the corporate equivalent of a “double dog dare” with the challenge of, “Is that all the customers you can find?!” One of the other participants sensing a political opening to become the only supporter of this meeting jumped on board and before you knew it, a collection of businesses that at most was generating a few hundred new customers per year was on the hook for collectively finding 10,000 new customers in the next year and 100,000 over three years.

I resigned hourly in my mind and when things got really bad, I suggested to my boss that for the sake of all of us, he needed to grab control of this meeting. Truthfully, I was worried I was going to make a public spectacle of myself any moment. My boss feeling approximately the same amount of consternation had had enough and he skillfully maneuvered this runaway train to a stop without much additional damage.

 

While just thinking about that meeting calls back feelings of post bad meeting stress syndrome (an undocumented yet but frequent phenomenon in the corporate world), it is illustrative of the power we have as managers and leaders to use these gatherings for good or evil. The balance of this article offers up some additional meeting types that spread stress and strife. As the manager or leader responsible for pulling people together to communicate, share and generate ideas, you are well served by eliminating these meeting types from your routine.

At Least Five Meetings Your Team Will Thank You for Eliminating or Fixing

1. 8:00 a.m. Monday Morning Staff Meetings. 

The problem with this meeting is that no one is ever ready for it. After all, it’s 8:00 a.m. on Monday morning—nothing has happened yet and whatever happened last week is mostly ancient history. The second problem with this meeting is that for anyone to be prepared, they have to work Sunday night which is fine on occasion but guaranteed to earn you some serious votes for “jerk of the year” from employees and the family members of employees.

The solution: if you must run a team meeting on Monday, push it to later in the morning or early in the afternoon.

Better yet, push it to Tuesday morning.

2. Round-the-Table Status Meetings.

You know this meeting. It’s the one where people move around the room sharing their latest updates, sagas, fantasies and dreams. Sit in the wrong place and you end up as the 22nd person to offer an update to a group whose bladders are over-strained and brains numb from the politically oriented updates emanating from the mouths of colleagues in far-away functions.

The solution: meet if you must, but set some rules on the updates. Ask people to focus on important news that impacts everyone or to identify challenges that require help from across functions.

Do anything to limit the painful march of gratuitous and self-serving status updates that undisciplined round-the-table meetings generate.

3. Recurring Meetings that Have Lost Their Purpose.

Any recurring meeting where no one can remember why this meeting still takes place is a candidate for immediate elimination. The laws of physics transfer to meetings and a meeting on the schedule tends to remain on the schedule long after it has used up its usefulness in the workplace. One new manager reviewed the recurring list of meetings on his team’s schedule and cancelled two of them because he could not uncover a reason for these meetings to exist. He received more than a few thank-you notes and a few comments from people wondering how he managed to kill this meeting that they had been trying to get rid of for the past year.

The solution: review all of the recurring meetings that you subject your team to or that you are a participant in, and eliminate them from your life and the lives of your team members. If you are not the host of the meeting, inform the host of your intention and of your perspective on the utility of the meeting. If you are the host/sponsor, poll team members and give them a voice and a vote. A bit of draconian slicing of recurring meetings opens up valuable time for other more important activities.

4. Group Word-smithing Meetings

This is any meeting where you pull together a group of people to work on the wording for something: a vision, a mission, a strategy statement, a scope statement in project management. The output of these sessions is typically a series of awkwardly constructed sentences reflecting compromises on the part of the person-in-charge. No one in the room agrees with the final product, but everyone nods their heads in assent as soon as the wording moves beyond ridiculous to just awful in an attempt to make the pain go away.

The solution: never relegate rough wording of anything to a committee. Take a stab at the item in question yourself, bounce it off a few colleagues and when you approach something that is beginning to work for you, very carefully ask for input from a group. Ask clarifying questions, take great notes and then disappear and redraft the statement(s), repeating the process as necessary.

5. Template Strategy Meetings. 

I am ending where I started, with the very broken strategy meeting described in the opening of this article. There is no magical process or template or even simple series of steps that help strategic clarity emerge. Conducting a S.W.O.T. (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis is not always on the critical path to arriving at an accurate assessment of conditions and opportunities. And numbers and targets and growth are not strategies. Beware of anyone suggesting they have a simple process for this complex topic. 

The solution: Invest in a highly qualified and experienced strategy facilitator or advisor who understands how to guide, sometimes lead and sometimes follow in pursuit of developing an actionable, meaningful strategy. The right professional will hold the group accountable to finding answers to the right (difficult) questions that must be answered on the road to strategic clarity.

The Bottom Line:

Meetings are priceless opportunities to connect, communicate, build relationships, and stimulate creative problem-solving. They are also opportunities ripe for overuse and even abuse. Strive to be the manager that respects the power and importance of meetings. Use these forums for the right reasons by architecting them to focus on key issues, solicit ideas and importantly, respect the time that everyone puts into the sessions. Your team members will appreciate your positive approach more than you may ever know. 

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