As a manager in a large company I find that I spend most of my day in useless meetings. Small talk eats up a lot of the meeting time, we wander every which way and generally don't get much done.
I hear many of my colleagues complain about this but we don't seem to do anything about it. Do you have some suggestions?
Since your co-workers are as frustrated as you are about wasting time in meetings, they may be ready for someone (you!) to take the lead to improve them. Why not take the first bold step toward becoming a legend in your own time by suggesting that the participants evaluate a meeting you lead. This is not for the timid. You may not like what you hear but at least the group will breathe a sigh of relief and admire your courage for jousting with this big destroyer of white-collar productivity.
Start with the evaluation techniques that you feel are right for the group and your company's culture. In fact, you might want to start small, say, with a group you think is already functioning pretty well. That way you'll learn from an easy one before venturing into the meeting meat grinders that grind up major chunks of your time. One other precaution before you start--work on your own meetings first. Then, if it seems to be helping, privately talk up the results to other meeting leaders rather than bringing up it up during one of their meetings.
Here's a simple approach for a group that's fairly open: At the start of your next meeting, say, "I'd like to try something different at the end of our meeting today. I'll be asking each of you what you thought of the meeting; if it was productive and if you have any suggestions to improve future meetings, so please be thinking about that. The reason I want to do this is so we can make a wise use of everyone's time. OK?" Once their mouths close, they'll probably agree it's a good idea but they'll be cautious about being totally honest. One thing for sure, they'll pay more attention to the process and the dynamics than they have in years!
At the end of the meeting, leave at least ten minutes and go around the room asking each one what they thought. Some will need prodding, so ask them what they liked and what they thought could be improved. Write down their points and bring them back next time. Before the next meeting begins, review what they said and suggest that the group work on a few of the improvements. At the end, tell them you'll ask them to rate how the group did. (This is not just a report card on your leadership ability but rather a self-evaluation of their own performance, too.)
If you think your group has a long way to go before they'll be able to self-critique, try a more structured approach. For example, you could make an assignment to complete the following sentence and send it to you anonymously: "In our meeting, we should do more of.....less of.....and the same amount of ...." If you tell them they can be anonymous, they may snipe at the meeting so it will be important to follow up on their criticisms. Don't defend yourself. Instead, calmly bring up their concerns and ask for ideas that would improve those areas. If you can model openness and honesty, they'll soon follow your lead.
Some tips to improve your meetings without any survey at all are these:
If your meetings begin to improve, you should notice people arriving on time with high energy. You'll also begin to have people take an active part in shaping the meeting if it goes off track because you'll create a feeling that meetings are valuable work times that people won't want to waste.
- Joan Lloyd
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