“Indescribable, interminable horror.” Such was the response to my casual “How’s your annual Sales Conference going?” asked of a friend attending her Fortune 500 company meeting.
What a shame! Why is it that meetings too often leave us frustrated, deflated or even exhausted? Having spent countless hours in some well-run – and occasionally “horrific” – meetings, four elements stand out that ensure everyone walks away feeling energized and engaged.
Clarity of Purpose
Why are we meeting? What are we here to learn, solve, decide, explore or align on? What outcomes will indicate this meeting has been a success?
Given the investment, it is incumbent on the organizer to ensure the meeting serves a worthwhile purpose. Meeting for the sake of meeting, or simply because it was scheduled as a recurring event results in people constantly checking devices waiting for the best part of the meeting to arrive: the end.
Manage the agenda to outcomes that align with the purpose rather than to time slots; if discussions are purposeful and progressing, keep going. And once an outcome is realized, move on! If more time on a topic is needed, you’ll have it because you made up time elsewhere.
A leaders’ inability – or unwillingness – to address critical issues directly and transparently is enormously frustrating. Every one of us has been in meetings where a meaningful, pressing issue arose and leadership attempted to suppress, skate around or ignore the matter, often while knowing this issue mattered more than any other. This leads to people arriving at meetings fully expecting to have much of their time wasted on trivial or superficial matters, irrelevant training modules and gratuitous cheerleading while being offered trash and trinkets for performing like trained seals, barking applauding on cue.
Include people in the preparation of the meeting, and design opportunities for real engagement during. Ask what issues or concerns need to be addressed, and then address those! Engage people in solving real issues, brainstorming about new products or processes, and identifying obstacles to success. Manage the energy of the event; don’t torture people with bloated slide presentations that should be distributed in advance or covered in a few minutes. Rather than you listing a bunch of accomplishments, have them acknowledge each other. Keep it moving, but do not diminish people with insulting incentives (e.g. $50.00 to the person who asks the most questions…).
Close with Commitment
Ensure people know what comes next:
- What did we specifically agree to during this meeting?
- Identify the individuals accountable for every to-do.
- When will we report back on open items?
- When will we reconvene (if necessary)?
- Be specific and explicit about the purpose and desired objectives;
- Wade into difficult issues rather than tip-toing around them;
- Ensure participants have a meaningful role before and during;
- Finish with clarity and specificity about what comes next.
Do these and the surge of energy and productivity will astonish you.