A few years ago, I would have told you I hated meetings. Having sat in several large towers at high profile companies, one would think that you just accepted that meetings were bad and time-consuming but it was the job so you did meetings, crammed in your work, or you worked late and did it all over again the next day. But meetings sucked the joy out of my job and what I knew I could accomplish with a good team had they been run better.
The dread I felt having to leave my desk and participate in these was excruciating. Meetings that were disorganized, without structure, many not prepared, always starting late, too many people, the same status list, the dominating person who didn’t share the floor, the meeting that didn’t need to be had — and many times walking out when it was over without seeing a decision, a change for the better, or my investment in a project or task not coming to fruition.
And in large companies, waste is unseen or ignored. At any given meeting, there were VP’s, Directors, Managers, and their staff which all add up to dollars. It is widely expected and accepted that meetings are what you do so we don’t often question the cost. But if you carried your hourly rate with you to the door and dropped it in the trash can and everyone walked out at the end without something to show for it, well, someone would begin to notice how full the cans were.
Fast-forward to 2018 when I accepted a position with my first start-up. Not just any start-up. A platform focused on meeting intelligence. When I saw the prototype and spoke with the founder and CEO, my imagination ran wild with the prospect I could help make meetings better for everyone. So I left my shiny tower to contribute to building a product that could positively change how we work together.
Here I am, two years later, to tell you —I love meetings! I am not delusional or drinking any kool-aid. I have learned to appreciate meetings for what they could be, what they should be. And hoping in 2021 to share the secret of good, useful, meaningful meetings. Ready?
The secret to good meetings is — caring about others.
When you care about others, you are considerate about their time.
If we went into meetings knowing we all had a lot of work to accomplish and little time to do it, we would be better at preparing for our discussions and laying out a plan for how we would spend our time together. If we met a famous person we admired, we wouldn’t think we had all day with them — we would know we only had a few minutes to shake their hand or ask a question and we would painstakingly prepare our “agenda” for those minutes with them. Why don’t we do the same for our meetings?
Agendas have a negative connotation with many because they feel they are a waste of time or take too much work when, in reality, they are a courtesy contract between participants which provide a plan of direction on what needs to be discussed, who is best to participate, and what the goal of the time spent together should be.
Try this: Whether you own the meeting or you are a participant, take a few minutes in advance of each meeting to reflect on the purpose and what you plan to contribute as a consideration to those you will be spending time collaborating with. Write it down in a place that all participants can view and add their own reflections as well. This has a natural, influencing effect on all participants so watch your efforts flourish!
When you care about others, you work together.
We have all gone into meetings feeling the competitive nature of trying to impress leadership or walk away the hero with the answers. But if we were all so independently awesome, we wouldn’t need other departments to get our work done. Let’s face it, not a single one of us can do the job on our own. We contribute a topping to the whole pizza. When walking into a meeting, why do the forces of competition and dominance seem to take over?
Picture working in the middle of a vehicle assembly line. If those ahead of you didn’t perform in a timely fashion or have the right parts, it would affect you the same as it would affect those downline. The final product would either be delayed or worse, be improperly built causing a multitude of problems such as lost customers, lost sales, plummeting stock prices, lost jobs, and a failed company.
Try this: Re-shift your focus as you come into a meeting to bring your “part” and know you will be joining it with what your peers bring to the table. Your knowledge and expertise are a vital part of the success of the company but become a superpower when joined with that of your team. Put your rings together and see amazing things happen through true teamwork.
When you care about others, you aim for solutions.
We all wish every meeting we walked into clearly stated a problem that we could fix at the moment and check it off the list before we walk out the door. But the reality is most meetings present a challenge and are meant to discuss a plan to chip away at coming to a solution over time.
Contractors building a house will meet each morning to discuss the work ahead. They don’t walk out of the meeting getting the house built but rather, they discuss the various tasks and challenges and the best order and people to assign the work to, to further the build toward completion. In order to make each day more successful than the previous, they set goals for what they hope to accomplish.
Try this: When working on complex projects, acknowledge expectations upfront and state the desired goal of the meeting for all to agree and focus on. Know who you are trying to solve the problem for and why and remove the burden of completion with smaller decisions and milestones that are purposeful and achievable to keep things moving forward.
While agendas, teamwork, and decisions are best practices that become second nature, caring about your customers and those you work with should be the driver behind everything you do to make your work and the meetings that help you accomplish that work more meaningful.