Meetings: Maddeningly Mundane or Massively Meaningful?

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on June 09, 2009 in: Business - Plain & Simple, Time Management Strategies

“A business without meetings is… an enjoyable place to work”.

Haha, okay that might be a serious anti-meeting sentiment but I know that most of you chuckled because deep down you feel the same way. Meetings are rarely an enjoyable experience. And yet, we have them and can’t imagine doing business without them.

In spite of my little joke, I don’t think that we need to get rid of meetings altogether. However, I think that they wouldn’t hurt to be a little more palatable.

A colleague of mine used to work as a reporter in a daily newspaper and he tells me of the apocryphal rule of newspaper writing: That the editor takes a pair of scissors and starts at the bottom and cuts off paragraph by paragraph until the article fits the space available in the paper. Thus, the most important stuff needs to be at the front. While this is (hopefully) an exaggeration, it gives us some inspiration for when we are creating agendas.

Put the most important stuff at the beginning of the meeting. Leaving it to the end is a common habit because people know that it’s a big issue and will take a lot of time so they want to spend “the rest of the meeting” on something. Unfortunately, by that point in the meeting, no one wants to spend the rest of the meeting on anything!

Also, think about whether your agenda items are informational or discussion oriented or analytical or require brainstorming. These are four very different types of activities that are often jammed into the same meeting. My advice? Put the informational stuff into an email and send it out. (And 3/4 of you are saying “But Heather, no one will read that email”… which might be true but then it’s your job to remind them that they either read the email or show up at a meeting). If you HAVE to have a meeting about informational stuff, aim for a 2 minute meeting at the start of the week to get it all out. Or, do what they used to do in school sometimes: write a memo with everyone’s name at the bottom. Pass it around and have each person initial beside their name once they’ve read it. Again, it’s elementary but if you tell people that they can either do it this way or attend another meeting, a majority of your staff will initial the memo without another word of complaint.

For your other agenda items, group discussion and analysis together in one and hold those periodically. It’s okay to have several items on the agenda, provided that they don’t take a lot of time. Set a limit on each item because discussion will often fill the amount of time allotted and if people know there’s a limit, they’ll say their piece and shut up.

Lastly, pick a good time when everyone feels smart and juicy with brainpower and pick a topic and brainstorm. In fact, it might not hurt to have a Monday morning brainstorming session from 10 to 11:30. It’s not too early for people to hate it, but early enough to get people pumped up. And if you don’t have a specific item to brainstorm, then create a topic like “How can we be more efficient in the office?”. A lot of the collaborative, creative energy and ideas that comes out of that weekly brainstorming meeting will carry many of your staff through the week.

Heather Recommends:

If you are a coach, freelancer, or entrepreneur who wants to succeed like a pro, I can help.

Product Spotlight


Business Lunch Club