Organizational Effectiveness: Don’t Kill the Meetings — Make Them Better

Meetings aren’t the problem — leadership is

Ah, meetings. Most of you have a full day of them if you’re in a senior leadership role. Be honest, wouldn’t you rather have a Rottweiler chew on your shin than go to most of them? The fact that you “own” many of them is even more disheartening! Maybe you should cancel them and see what happens! … Or maybe not!

Meetings aren’t the problem — leadership is! That is, you!

I chaired many a bad meeting in my days as an executive. See if any of these ring a bell:

  • Bore-me-to-tears, long-update meetings where everyone goes through their projects in painful detail: You’re thinking, I could’ve read a memo about this! Or I wonder what I’m having for dinner!
  • No-agenda meetings — the equivalent of six 5-year-olds in a sandbox: I used to fly from Denver to Los Angeles every Friday for a meeting that might be one hour or eight hours. Several times I got there and the meeting had been canceled!
  • CYA meetings: If I can get everyone involved in this disastrous situation, it won’t be my fault!
  • No-decision meetings: Let’s stir up this crap and then avoid the tough decisions! If we gnash our teeth long enough, perhaps it’ll fix itself (if the sun doesn’t burn out first!).
  • Faux-collaboration meetings: You know, the one where the CEO (maybe you!) asks for everyone’s opinions, and as long as everyone agrees with him or her, it’s all good. Disagree and you aren’t a “team player.”
  • And my favorite, the “annual meeting because we always have one at this time of year”: The meeting’s purpose is a mystery, and the training department cobbles together an agenda a couple of weeks in advance and looks for an entertaining speaker on the subject of _________. (It doesn’t matter, because there’s no purpose to the meeting!)

Do you have any of these on your calendar?

The only thing worse than a bunch of these is no meetings at all, because that means you aren’t talking to one another, and you sure as hell don’t have alignment … on anything! That’s not a company — it’s a day care center!

A CEO client of mine recently realized that he was the reason he hated all the meetings he called. After adopting a few new rules and changing some behavior (much of it his), he felt like he had a new lease on life!

I’ve worked with clients to develop good meeting practices. Here are some common themes:

  1. Have a stated purpose.
  2. Identify a leader or facilitator.
  3. “Optimize,” rather than avoid, conflict. The leader must mine for different opinions.
  4. Don’t allow personal or ad hominem attacks.
  5. Require that everyone participate; saying nothing means you disagree.
  6. Encourage, hear and consider all facts and opinions. 
  7. Don’t have repercussions for offering opposing ideas.
  8. Ensure reasonable participation by all. No dominant loudmouths and no hiding.
  9. Honor decision rights (e.g., clarify who’s making the decision).
  10. End meetings with accountabilities identified (i.e., who does what by when).
  11. Respect decisions after they’re made — no hallway reversals.

I’ll bet you could add a few. 

One of my clients has seven rules for all meetings and posts them in all the conference rooms. Anyone in the meeting can call out violations.

If you suffer from miserable meetings, call one with your senior team to develop meeting rules. Use the list above as a template, and add or subtract as you see fit. Then, as CEO or senior leader, make sure you follow the rules!

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  • Thomas H Holmes, CMC, CPIM

    5:32 pm April 23, 2019

    A LinkedIn colleague of mine, David Herman, has studied, written, trained and developed software to assist with improving the effectiveness and efficiency of holding meetings. He currently resides in New Zealand. Much of his work centers around the idea of “Meet Quick.”

    I’m sure he’d dialogue with other professionals around this topic.