Chris Pearse Contributor I write about the realities and challenges of leadership.
- The board-room table that seats 20 or 30 is an anachronistic, corporate ego-trip that promotes grandstanding.
- Technology can facilitate some meetings, but it can also provide a compelling reason to disengage from others.
According to Donald Wetmore of the Productivity Institute:
- 90% of people daydream in meetings
- 60% of meeting attendees take notes to appear as if they are listening
Whether or not these stats are reliable or even verifiable, many of us have experienced meetings that seem to drain the lifeblood out of us leaving us bored, de-motivated, disengaged and disheartened.
But as Patrick Lencioni asserts:
The greatest myth that exists about meetings is that they are inherently bad.
So why do we persist in compelling our highly skilled, diligent and dedicated staff (they must be if we employed them – right?) to attend meetings that make them question their will to live?
Meetings are held for a variety of obvious reasons – from making an announcement to addressing an issue – but when you dig a little deeper into the more subtle dynamics of some of these meetings, you can often identify the power-plays, ego-massaging and back-covering strategies that pervade them, and render them lifeless, disempowering affairs.
Based on the principle that meetings should feel uplifting, constructive and energising, here are some tips to make them just that:
1. Get rid of tables
Tables create a barrier between people, separating and protecting them. They encourage the covert use of laptops and phones, not always relevant to the meeting.
Dispensing with tables means talking to whole people, devoid of the paraphernalia that tables encourage them to bring. It also facilitates the breaking up of larger meetings into smaller groups – see below. If you don’t believe that tables can radically shift the dynamic of a meeting, try it – the usual protestations that a table is essential is proof enough.
2. Prohibit comings and goings
When people exit a meeting at will, it demeans the meeting and the team. Of course, subject matter experts can be scheduled into a meeting when appropriate. But a common habit of senior managers is to enter late and leave early – don’t be fooled, this may well be a conscious, or even a subliminal status-play.
If a c-suiter enters the meeting to ‘see how things are going’ and lurks at the back of the room, involve them. Make them feel a part of the meeting. Meetings should include everyone in the room and not exclude anyone.
3. Hold discussions in small groups
It is simply not possible to hold a constructive discussion with 12 people. The board-room table that seats 20 or 30 is an anachronistic, corporate ego-trip that promotes grandstanding. The optimal number of people in a discussion is 4-5. More than that and the opportunity to dominate or disengage becomes significant.
In larger meetings, split the team up when discussions are needed. The absence of tables makes this all the easier to organise – the shuffling of chairs is often a welcome reconnection to the physical world.
4. Restrict technology
Technology can facilitate some meetings, but it can also provide a compelling reason to disengage from others. This applies to phones, laptops and slide decks.
The problem with a slide presentation is it diverts attention away from the presenter, simultaneously diverting the presenter’s attention away from their audience. The connection is weakened and then lost completely when the presenter mindlessly reads each bullet-point off the screen, using it as an autocue or teleprompter.
A good principle is: no tech without justification. Unless there are truly relevant graphics, limit the tech to a flip-chart. And remember – bullets kill.
5. Respect timings
The expectation that a prolix speaker will overrun into your lunch break is guaranteed to interfere with your ability to maintain focus on the matter in hand.
So apply Parkinson’s Law ruthlessly:
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
Agree a time-scale and reduce it by 20%.
Ensure the meeting starts on time and finishes on time.
Being punctual demonstrates respect. Meetings that overrun are the result of sloppy, ill-disciplined management. There is no excuse. If the meeting requires more time, close it anyway and reconvene on another day. People will quickly learn the advantages of clarity, brevity and timeliness.
But perhaps the best advice is to only hold meetings that are genuinely intended to bring people together to harness their collective intelligence, intuition and creativity – a true meeting of minds.
So if there is news to be broadcast, do it electronically. If it’s bad news, do it 1-on-1. If it’s good news, announce it at 5pm and throw in some beers.
I help leaders accelerate their development and impact through a deepened awareness of our inner dynamics – the belief systems and emotions that shape our leadership. Discover more here…
Chris Pearse Contributor
I am an Executive Coach to leaders across diverse sectors including FTSE100s and SMEs. I am also an Interim CEO.