How Good Meetings Go Bad
Conducting a good meeting goes beyond implementing good UC technology -- it’s about the people and behaviors, too.
Technology can only go so far. A bad meeting is not made better with good unified communications (UC) tools alone. It is a problem of the meeting organizer and the participants. It is about agenda, content, scheduling, and behavior before, during, and after the meeting. In today's environment, the chairperson and participants can be remote, not in the same room, building, or country. But the presence of remote participants should not impair meeting success.
Meet or Think?
Can we get work done between the meetings? It's a good question. I need time to think. In some of the organizations for which I've consulted, I wondered why all the meetings were scheduled and why all the participants were involved. Some people schedule meetings as if those not attending will not know what is going on, what information is presented, and what decisions were made. Some, sad to say, love the idea of running a meeting. Meetings should cover aspects that most attendees don't know. It is usually a waste of time to hold a meeting to review known items unless it is to emphasize the items, gain consent, or produce a final decision.
Good meeting notes delivered in a timely manner can go a long way to impart information to those not attending. So attendance at every meeting is not mandatory.
In "Meetings: The Good, Bad and the Ugly" from Knowledge@Wharton, there is statement that says it all, "Meetings have emerged as one of the most universally despised conventions of American work life, and they show no sign of letting up. But if workers and managers alike feel put upon by meetings, experts say it's not meetings per se that are the culprit. The problem is bad meetings."Meeting Goals
Meeting goals should be to discuss a single topic or a related set of topics, and gain consensus for a conclusion or task to be done. Discussing unrelated topics during the meeting will cause the group to go off on tangents, start working on other projects with their laptops, tablets or smartphones, which then threatens the meeting's effectiveness. Focusing on one topic or one related set of topics allows the subject matter to be fully discussed and each person to be heard.
Don't have a meeting to discuss when to schedule a meeting. This is not only useless but wastes time. The meeting should come to a conclusion about what was discussed and actions to be taken. If meetings do not generate conclusions or actionable items, then the participants can lose faith in their purpose and effectiveness. People take time to attend a meeting. It is important for meeting chairpersons to ensure the meetings have value and a final outcome.Preparation Leads to Success
The chairperson schedules the meeting, produces the agenda, confirms attendance, and then leads the meeting. The chairperson decides who can speak in a meeting, when questions can be asked, and when it is time to return to the focus of the meeting. A strong and decisive chairperson is necessary, otherwise a meeting can get sidetracked very quickly.
Participants need to be ready to contribute by formulating questions, comments, and suggestions in advance. They should have any data or presentations with them that will help reinforce assertions they plan to make. Participants need to respect the agenda of the meeting and the role of the chairperson. The chairperson is the leader of the meeting and should not have to compete with the participants.Too Many Meetings
People can become saturated with attending meetings. The article mentioned above cites an excellent quote from former Xerox executive Thomas Kayser, who says, "A meeting is a place where you keep the minutes and throw away the hours." It goes on to share data from a Harris/Clarizen poll of 2,066 American adults. The poll found that 46% said they would endure "any unpleasant activity" rather than sit in a meeting. Of this 46%, 18% said they would prefer going to the DMV, 17% said they would prefer to watch paint dry, and 8% said they would even opt to have a root canal over sitting in a meeting. If that doesn't tell you something about how meetings are taking place, I don't know what will!Behavior Counts
If you do not participate in a meeting, then why are you attending? Someone else can inform the non-participants or they could read the meeting minutes. If you don't participate, then you do not add any value to the meeting and you could be doing other work during that time. Don't be passive. Contribute or don't attend the meeting.Technology's Place
UC technology that is unreliable, poor quality, and hard to establish connections, can make a meeting bad. But even without these problems, a meeting's success still comes down to the participants and not the technology used. Good UC technology should be neutral to the success of the meeting.
Another good article from Knowledge@Wharton is "The Real Reason Your Multinational Team Has Trouble Communicating." It includes a video interview, and discusses the problems with meetings as they relate to an international organization.