5 Great Ways To Make Sure Your Staff Hates Your Meeting

By Laurent Duperval

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Meetingitis: Having so many meetings that you can't get your work done. --The Urban dictionary

It's no secret, the information age is about meetings. Meetings to plan next week's activities, meetings to review last week's activities, meetings to review the previous meeting and plan the next one. It is unending!

Meetings have a real cost, which tends to be ignored. EffectiveMeetings.com has a meeting cost calculator, which allows you to determine the annual cost of holding meetings. It shows that for a small company holding 2-hour meetings with 5 people five times per week, the annual cost is $65,000.

However, what about the cost in lost productivity? If a programmer is totally engrossed in his work but needs to interrupt it to attend a meeting, there is an extra cost to consider: the time it will take that programmer to get back to his previous level of concentration.

Meetings can be useful but are often unproductive because the participants feel as though very little has been accomplished. The worst offenders are the recurring meetings that eventually tend to become routine more than anything else. There may not be much to discuss but the meeting is held anyway, because that's just the way it is.

Take time to evaluate whether you are holding too many meetings and suffering from meetingitis. If you aren't, see if the current meetings suffer from any of these meetingitis signs.

1. No agenda available

One of the biggest time wasters is not having an agenda for a meeting. Instead of focusing immediately on the issue at hand, part of the meeting is used up to create an agenda on the spot.

Having no agenda for a meeting is a warning sign that the meeting may not be useful. One common excuse for not providing the meeting agenda is the time required to prepare it. This pales in comparison to the collective time taken to set up the meeting with 10 people in the meeting room.

The solution: Have an agenda ready at least 24 hours before a meeting and make sure all the attendees receive it beforehand. The agenda should contain all of the expected outcomes of each point, as well as the name of the person accountable for that point. Make it a point to follow up with the meeting minutes and the actions expected to be taken.

2. Straying off-topic

There's no point in having an agenda if you don't stick to it. Meetings have a tendency to take on a life of their own if they are not held in check. This can take several forms:

  • Attendees come in with their own agenda. For example, you have a meeting scheduled to discuss the various benefits of three service offerings from your providers. However, some members of your technical staff are not interested in any of the solutions and want to create their own in-house tool based on open source software. Instead of discussing the merits of the commercial offerings, they argue that another option should be considered and they try to veer discussions toward this new option.

  • Discussions on a topic derail. You plan to address issues with production servers, but discussions center around an improper test plan that should have uncovered problems earlier.

  • Attendees lack discipline. During the meeting, people blurt out numerous jokes, there are constant side conversations, and so on.
  • All of these behaviors affect the overall meeting atmosphere and can cause it to drag on, or can prevent it from attaining its stated goal, thereby wasting every one's time. The solution: To maintain the effectiveness of a meeting, assign one person as the chair. The chair's responsibility is to pay attention to the discussions and bring them back on topic to ensure that the issues are dealt with appropriately.3. Death by PowerPoint

    The problem isn't PowerPoint per se, but rather the over-reliance on this tool combined with its improper use of it. (For a hilarious view of this, see comedian Don McMillan's “How NOT to use PowerPoint” routine on YouTube.)

    The problems with improper use of PowerPoint are numerous: reading the slides, too many slides, too much text on the slides, incomprehensible diagrams, improper use of fonts and backgrounds, too many special effects, and so on. These problems are compounded when there are technical issues.

    A manager of a large multinational company explained to me how one of his presentations went awry because it took 15 minutes to get the system set up properly to display the PowerPoint information. That cut 25% of his allotted time and he had to speed through the information.

    The solution: Don't hold the meeting unless you know you can get through it even if you don't have access to PowerPoint. Try different approaches each time: use flip charts, paper handouts, white boards, etc.

    4. Inappropriate humor

    Humor has many qualities: It helps to relieve tension, it helps to get the audience moving, it helps to learn and assimilate information. Using it properly can yield tremendous benefits.

    However, it is also a double-edged sword. If it is used improperly, it can turn on you faster than a Seagate Cheetah 15K.5.

    Ironically, using no humor at all is inappropriate. It makes you look stuffy and insecure. Furthermore, it makes for a boring meeting. No, actually it makes for a boring meeting. Everybody hates boring meetings.

    Another form of inappropriate humor is poking fun at other people or groups, whether “groups” are defined by age, sex, occupation, religion, and so on. We live in an era where we are much better educated and aware of other people's feelings. This makes us more careful about what we say and how we say it. However, when the target is absent or “anonymous,” it emboldens us.

    For example, I have sat in meetings where programmers would laugh at “people from marketing” or “the incompetent managers.” Management and marketing were not present in those meetings. The attitude, though, made it more difficult for programmers, management, and marketing to understand each other. This, in turn, slowed project progress and created tension between the teams.

    The solution: Lighten up! Especially in difficult situations. Don't take yourself too seriously. Poke fun at yourself; don't laugh at the expense of others.

    5. Disregard for people's time

    This is another common complaint about meetings: They last too long or they don't start and end on time.

    “Time is money” is a lie. Time is more valuable than money because once you've lost it, you cannot get it back. Most people value their time and spending it in meetings prevents them from doing more important things like getting their work done or going back to their family.

    Typical time wasters in meetings include: waiting for every one to show up before starting; summarizing the meeting when latecomers show up; and not ending at the specified time.

    The solution: Begin on time and end on time, even if some people are late. If a topic requires more time than anticipated, either remove other topics from the agenda or plan a separate meeting to address that topic only.

    Meetings are a fact of business life and they aren't going away any time soon. Take time to evaluate the effectiveness of your meetings today. Evaluate the five areas presented here but also request participant feedback to gain a better understanding of what needs to improve.

    Don't be afraid to completely overhaul your current approach to meetings. It may be the best way to prevent pandemic cases of meetingitis.

    Laurent Duperval is a communications trainer, coach and consultant.