Home Time Management A Meeting A Day Wastes Your Life Away
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A Meeting A Day Wastes Your Life Away Print
Meeting. A coming face to face for friendly or hostile ends.
>> Chambers 20th Century Dictionary.
How many millions of hours will be wasted today in pointless, unplanned and unproductive meetings? Take a guess. If just 1 person in 20 of America's working population has spent one hour in a useless meeting today (an underestimate, in my opinion) then the equivalent of over 120 person years have just been idled away. Almost two whole lifetimes. Every day.

 

Yet that waste could so easily be avoided.

It has become the accepted business mantra: 'let's have a meeting', as if the mere act of sitting around a table is going to solve every problem. But in my long experience of trying to focus on the issue while looking moderately intelligent while desperately fighting to stay awake, few meetings ever get the chance to solve anything for the simple reason that they are so badly run.

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No grand idea was ever born in a conference, but a lot of foolish ideas have died there.

>> F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Meetings tend to be held for one (or more) of the following reasons:

1. Because the Client is paying top dollar for our services and has asked for one.

2. Because nobody has any idea how to resolve the current problem, so as many people as possible are gathered together to share the failure.

3. Ditto number 2, but with the more optimistic expectation that some solution will be eventually hammered out.

4. Because one person is convinced they know best and wants to use a public forum to 'hear (and ignore) everyone's view' before imposing their own.

5. Because it is Monday (or any other day) and we always have a meeting at this time.

6. Because it is better than working.

The problem with the vast majority of business meetings is that nobody really takes ownership. A well run, effective meeting is a pleasure to be part of but sadly, training in effective meetings management is rarely given. And so most start at a pretty low level and go downhill from there on in.

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Meetings are indispensable when you don't want to do anything.

>> John Kenneth Galbraith

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Running good, effective business meetings is a skill that can easily be learned. A whole book could easily be filled with things to do and remember, the following 12 key points will help your meetings to be fruitful and your colleagues to stay awake.

1. The first question to ask yourself is whether you really need a meeting at all. Many are held out of habit, or a sense of obligation. Consider a telephone conference call or even an exchange of emails as your first option.

2. Who really needs to be invited? There is often a feeling that 'the more the merrier.' This is rarely the case. In my experience, the smallest number of people involved leads to the greatest effect. Make sure that everyone who is there has at least the possibility of adding to the knowledge of the group as a whole. Observers should be avoided at all costs.

A good way to limit the numbers is to work out the rough cost of all the participants. Ten people in a meeting whose average salary is $60,000 comes to over $330 per hour. Add in a notional room hire cost and refreshments and you can see that even a short meeting can cost your company serious money. Money which is probably used more effectively if half of those ten people are left to get on with their real jobs.

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The length of a meeting rises with the square of the number of people present.

>> Eileen Shanahan

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3. Put one person in charge. It doesn't have to be the most senior person, but whoever is delegated the role of 'chair' should have sufficient force of character to keep everyone under control. The important rule is that everyone must know who is the leader and must not try to 'take over.'

4. The meeting leader should circulate a detailed and unambiguous agenda to all the delegates in good time. If research needs to be done or any items need to be brought to the meeting, this should be clearly set out on the agenda along with the name of the responsible party.

5. If the agenda can't be put on one side of a sheet of paper, it is too long. Simplify it, or as a last resort, schedule two meetings.

6. The leader should open the meeting with a clear announcement of what the problems are.

7. It is very easy to get sidetracked. I have lost count of the number of meeting I have attended where anything but the problem in hand has been discussed. The worst offenders are clients who are 'in town' and have nowhere else to go once the meeting is over. They try to stretch things out to fill their time. Do not let them get away with it. The meeting leader must be strong enough to keep the group 'on message' and when everything has been discussed that needs to be, wind up clearly and cleanly.

8. Don't rush. Give each point the time it deserves, but be aware that the full agenda has to be covered and endless discussion on a relatively minor point is simply another waste of everyone's time.

9. If all the delegates work in the same building, call each one in to the meeting only when they are needed. There is nothing worse than sitting through two hours of irrelevancies before getting to 'your bit.' But this happens all the time. Allow and encourage people to come in and out as required.

10. Firmly, but politely ask all attendees to turn off their cell phones.

11. Give one person the job of taking clear minutes. Make sure that a summary of the meeting's decisions and actions is run through and agreed by everybody before breaking up. At the same time, make sure that a clear action plan for each attendee is minuted. Distribute the minutes as quickly as possible - certainly within 24 hours.

12. Schedule meetings before lunch or late afternoon. It is far more likely that they will finish on time. Always make a point of starting on time - even if all the attendees have not arrived (unless there is a very good reason). If you are known to run a tight, effective meeting your colleagues will respect you for it and usually behave accordingly.

Follow these pointers and your meetings will work harder and more efficiently than ever before. And who knows, you might find you didn't really need a meeting after all.

2001 © Martin Avis

About the Author:

Martin Avis is a management and training consultant.
To get your unfair advantage (and 6 free gifts) in Internet marketing, business and personal success, subscribe free to his weekly newsletter ,
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