1. Unclear Meeting Purpose
As people are gathering for a meeting it’s rarely a good sign to overhear them asking one another “do you know why we're even meeting?” If you're leading a meeting, be sure your purpose is clearly communicated in advance and the agenda is designed to achieve that purpose. If you post the purpose and agenda prominently on a whiteboard or flip chart you can focus participation and keep the meeting on track.
Ask people what kills their meeting productivity and no one is at a loss for answers! Most of our work today requires some degree of collaboration in meetings yet our efforts are unnecessarily thwarted by challenges that can easily be addressed. If you are responsible for leading meetings, do yourself, your attendees and your organization a favor, and read on. The following deadly productivity problems have fast fixes to help get beyond the pain and get to the participation you need to be productive.
2. Bad Timing
While it's the easiest to solve, the most often cited problem leading to participant frustration is poor time management: a meeting starts and/or ends later than it was scheduled. If you're concerned about latecomers missing the beginning of your meeting, document proceedings on a flip chart and/or catch them up during a break. Watch the clock and start wrapping up five to ten minutes before the stated end time.
3. The Agenda that Ate Manhattan
Closely related and frequently contributing to "bad timing" above is the hastily prepared, unrealistic agenda. An overly ambitious agenda will frustrate and disappoint attendees when it doesn’t achieve stated objectives. It also causes a meeting to run way over time. Plan for success, not frustration. Be realistic about what can be accomplished. Consider the background of the participants, their level of familiarity and comfort with the issues to be discussed, the size of the group and the participation that will be required.
4. Debates and Monologues
The only thing more dreaded than tolerating two people in a confrontational debate that doesn’t advance a meeting's objectives is being an unwilling audience to someone who takes the stage for an uninvited soliloquy. While good operating agreements or meeting ground rules can encourage attendees to share the stage with others, skilled facilitation is required to harness attendee enthusiasm, park ideas for later discussion and help attendees get back on track when an agonizing conversation takes a meeting off-track. Be prepared to jump in when a meeting hijacker pauses or takes a breath. Ask the speaker to help the group understand how the comments will contribute to the meeting purpose and request a brief summary of the main point or "bottom line." A prompt may simply be asking, "Can you tell us the specific point you are trying to make?"
During a meeting if participants are reading or responding to emails, participating in side conversations or engaging in off-track activities the productivity of the meeting is at risk. Meeting leaders who start on time, asking the right questions and assuring that the conversations are relevant, can minimize the temptation for participant's attention to stray to what they feel are more important activities.
6. Dejas Vu
Meetings can drag on unnecessarily if attendees re-hash conversations or try to revisit decisions that were already made. Perhaps it’s because they missed a previous meeting or maybe the resolution was not clear. Get beyond this dilemma by being vigilant about documenting decisions at the end of every meeting and managing follow-up as needed.
Pay attention to the cost to your participants and your organization if your meetings are deadly. If you create purposeful and realistic agendas, manage participation and produce relevant documentation of your accomplishments, you can breath life into your gatherings and arrest those culprits before they murder your next meeting.
Lynda Baker, January 2017