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Are you meeting or working?

By January 5, 2023Leadership
People in a meeting

At a recent away day, a team were trying to get a date in the diary for a meeting. Everyone kept saying “I can’t do that date, I’m working.” We were going around in circles until the team’s leader said “We need to rethink our attitude to meetings – when we have a meeting, that IS work!”
Wise words indeed. So how have meetings become unmoored from work and viewed as an interruption and an irritation? Reasons like having too many, being at meetings where you’re not adding value and meetings that are all talk and no action spring to mind. If meetings no longer feel an important part of work, we need to look at why that might be – and what better time to do an early spring clean of your meetings schedule than now?
Here are 4 dark corners to delve into as part of your 2023 meetings overhaul.

1. Number of meetings

One of the not so good things to come from the recent past is the impact virtual working has had on the way we communicate with each other. The pandemic paved the way for a meetings epidemic and most people’s meeting load has gone up. Despite the many gains of a more flexible approach to work, it’s harder to be spontaneous and informal and suddenly everything is a transaction aka a meeting. Let’s start to pare them down a bit. Is everything best served by a meeting? Could it be call, an email exchange or an agreement to catch up next time you’re both/all in the same location. Even if you agree to cut out one regular meeting, or find another way to get the agenda covered, it will make a difference.

2. Purpose of meetings

It’s simple, there should be one. If meetings are work, they need to achieve something. Next time you get together, make item 1 on the list a chance to agree or renew the purpose. What are you getting together for and what will happen as a result? Actions don’t need to overwhelm everyone but there should be some. Connection and relationship development is a purpose for meeting but there probably needs a secondary reason too, for the event being in people’s diary. Renewing your meeting purpose is surprisingly energising and focusses people’s minds on why they are there and why there’s nowhere else they’d rather be. That might be pushing it a bit but you get the idea. And if no one can come up with or agree on a purpose, refer to point 1. above.

3. People at meetings

This is all about getting the right people around the table. Apparently, Jeff Bezos has a rule no meeting should be so large that two pizzas can’t feed the whole group. Clearly that depends on people’s appetites but it is often a case of the larger the meeting, the less that gets done. Everyone at your meetings should be a full participant, able to contribute and take away actions. Whilst you may get the odd guest, regular observers rarely add value. You want the meeting to be viewed as a positive part of everyone’s working day, not just useful to the person who leads it. Consider your attendee list and whether it needs revising. You may find you add rather than subtract which can bring a new energy to the proceedings. Just make sure they don’t eat more than their share of the pizza.

4. Behaviour at meetings

Were you brought up to keep your elbows off the table, chew with your mouth closed and tip your soup bowl away from you? We’re a bit more informal these days but manners still matter and we’ve forgotten some of ours at meetings. A simple rule to apply is, if you wouldn’t do it in the room, don’t do it on the screen. Agreeing some ground rules for meetings sounds a bit stern yet shows respect for everyone’s time and works well if they are agreed and decided by the group not an individual. One of our clients uses a set of meeting roles – parts that people take on to ensure the meeting runs well. As well as the meeting leader, there is a timekeeper, a scribe and a gatekeeper (makes sure everyone has their say and equal chance to input). And the roles rotate so no one gets stuck in a rut. They also review the effectiveness of the meeting with a final “how did we do?” agenda item. It’s brief but effective and it works for them. It might work for you too.

This is less about resolutions (usually fail) or revolutions (a bit full on for January) and more about making a few small changes. Maybe we should stop calling them meetings and start calling them workings.