by Steve Adubato, PhD

In his book, “Death by Meeting,” best selling author Patrick Lencioni quotes a mythical corporate manager saying, “If I didn’t have to go to meetings, I’d like my job a lot more.” Lencioni goes on to write about professionals lamenting how much they hate meetings. Lencioni asks, if we hate meetings so much why don’t we work harder to make them better. It’s a great question.

Meetings should be the place where most of the communicating and decision making in business takes place. If your meetings are bad, there is a safe bet your business isn’t doing well. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Q—So why are so many meetings so bad?

A—Biggest reason? Either no agenda or a topic-oriented agenda that doesn’t focus on accomplishing concrete goals. When you have a meeting without an agenda it meanders all over the place. Decisions aren’t made. Deadlines aren’t set. The topic-oriented agenda simply lists a bunch of things to talk about. For example, “Budget” or “Fundraising.” The problem with listing topics in your agenda is that it isn’t clear what must be accomplished. Rather, go with a GOAL ORIENTED agenda that looks like this; “Ideas for cutting the budget 5% by December 31,” or, “Top 10 fundraising prospects to be contacted by the end of the month.” The focus is on action and results.

Q—But aren’t meetings, even with a bad agenda, good to have because they bring people together?

A—Absolutely not. Meeting just to meet is a terrible idea. Don’t meet to shoot the breeze. Don’t meet because you think you should. And leaders shouldn’t call meetings just to hear themselves talk. One of the biggest problems with meetings is that we have too many of them, which causes the ones that are REALLY important not to be appreciated for what they are.

Q—But if we don’t meet, how can we address our issues?

A—Try sharing information electronically. If your meetings consist of people giving “informational reports” not followed by an interactive discussion, save the time and have them send an e-mail. What about walking down the hall and talking directly to the person you need to talk to instead of getting everyone else involved in a meeting? And don’t forget the phone, which is great to make quick decisions. Unnecessary meetings cost billions to businesses.

Q—What are some other things we can do to improve our meetings?

A—Make sure there is a clock on the wall and use it. Allot a specific amount of time for an agenda item and keep to it. Put it in writing. Next, as a meeting leader, make sure you get participants to contribute instead of you doing all the talking. Ask probing questions like, “Jim, what specific action do you think we need to take in order to overcome this obstacle?” Raise the bar for Jim and every meeting participant so they know their input is valuable. The more people see meetings as a place where they can contribute and things will get done, the more they will invest in them.

Also, put deadlines on actions to be taken. Meeting leaders must create a sense of urgency; “We MUST do XYZ, by the end of the week.” Meeting leaders must also clarify any potential confusion or misunderstanding; “So what you are saying Joan is…” Finally, don’t end a meeting without recapping significant decisions that have been made.