by Steve Adubato, PhD

Meetings. They can be productive, engaging and extremely useful. They can also be boring, de-motivating and steal valuable time.

The problem with meetings hit me again this past week as I was working with some clients who were complaining about the “meeting culture” in their organization. One top executive said she spent between 40 and 50 percent of her time in meetings while another guy told me he spent almost 75 percent of his time in meetings. When I asked why so many meetings, I was told things like; “It’s just what we do here”, or, “All these meetings are a part of our culture”, or finally, “It’s the way we share information” with our team since we all run in so many different directions.

I get it. I understand why we say we have meetings. But I continue to ask myself, how do we measure the effectiveness of all this? If we have “quality control” for our products and procedures, why don’t we have any quality control for the communication that goes on in our organization or, in this case, our meetings? If you, like so many others, feel inundated and distracted by the meeting mania going on in your organization, consider what I call “communication quality control” questions that can help:

--What is the GOAL of this particular meeting? If you can’t precisely and clearly state the meeting goal in one sentence, something is seriously wrong. A meeting without a specific goal is a prescription for organizational problems. It’s about the way we communicate. Try something like; “The goal for this meeting is to come up with three recommendations for improving the operations in our XYZ department.”

--Exactly who needs to be in this very goal-oriented meeting and who doesn’t? In answering this question, you are likely to find that you only need three to five people sitting around that table instead of ten to fifteen. Think about the productivity that you would achieve and the savings involved.

--How prepared is the meeting leader to truly facilitate this session by asking clear, probing and open-ended questions that move toward achieving our stated goal? If not, what training or coaching are we undertaking to get our meeting leaders to be competent enough to run this important business activity?

--If the meeting is a so-called “information sharing” session, is there a more efficient and cost-effective way of communicating such information? Simply put, if everyone in the meeting is going to be providing a report or “update” on their respective activities with no real discussion or follow up, then why exactly does everyone need to be in a room listening to this? If all you are doing is dumping data, then instead ask each meeting participant to send a one-page, bulleted e-mail with the key points they want to share with the group. As part of this e-mail, make sure that everyone on the team is given the opportunity to follow up with the messenger on any questions or issues they may have. Simply put, given today’s technology, everyone doesn’t have to be in the same room to “share information”.

--Finally, to what extent are you making sure that specific “action items” are being communicated? If there is no action that comes out of the meeting, what was the point? Meetings must be about moving forward and moving forward is about taking action and making decisions.

If more professionals engaged in “communication quality control” when it comes to meetings, the quality of our business lives (not to mention more time for our personal lives) would be greatly improved.