How to make meetings suck less
If it cannot be an e-mail, at least find a way to make it productive.
The problem with meetings? They rob time from working.
The other problem with meetings? It’s rare, if not impossible, to have a group of people with a fully matching agenda in the same room.
The first colleague wants to discuss how to move forward with the project. The second one wants to prove that they are the most experienced in the team. The third one wants to make new friends. Another one wants to vent about their boss, or their family. And so on.
Everyone has their own priorities and no inspiring leader will be able to erase them and replace them with «the project».
We turned our work into such a significant component of our lives that we now have to deal with the fact that different people have different personal matters, social and psychological challenges, insecurities, frustrations and ambitions — and they bring them to the office. Professional encounters became a proxy for non-awkward social interactions, and that dynamic is here to stay.
Creative techniques to avoid the derailment of your next meeting
There are a few actions you can implement to raise the chances of having a productive meeting.
You can prime the participants to the meeting with a clear desired outcome:
- Send a concise email a couple of days before the meeting, stating what you want to leave the meeting with and how missing that outcome will lead to negative consequences (delay in the timeline/angry boss/etc).
- Ask each one of them to come ready with information or ideas that you need to move forward.
- Send them a few thoughts of your own to review before the meeting, so that they will be ready to relay their thoughts as soon as the meeting begins.
In other words, any preemptive message that conveys “there is a purpose and we really need to get stuff done”.
Provide a physical tool to point at the bad dynamics. It can be a printed sign, an action figure, a fruit… anything. A creepy picture of your CEO, if you prefer. Just ask the participants to reach out to it and show it when they feel that the discussion is going from «focused» to «distracting» — it doesn’t matter if it’s because of Jason’s stupid anecdote or because of the power dynamics triggered by the Boomer middle manager. Give permission to take the object and use it as a signal to focus on the project and not on the distraction.
You can give space at the beginning of the meeting to express anything that the participants want to take off their chest. This should be done for no more than 7/10 minutes. Set a timer, if you want. You can also ask them to just brain dump everything on a piece of paper, fold it and put it away. Any technique that invites the participants to let go of unrelated thoughts.
By the way
You can also just avoid having that meeting. Especially not with so many people.
Send an email, ask for input, make yourself a good coffee, draw some potential conclusions and suggest a way forward. That doesn’t seem to work? Oh well. At least bring some good quality pastries to the meeting.