Left to my own devices, I believed that meetings were enormous time wasters and the best management and leadership was to avoid them completely. The term “This could have been an email.” is more than a meme. It’s too often a fact. I lived most of my first years as an entrepreneur comprehensively banning meetings. If you needed to sort something out with a colleague, pick up the phone, pen an email or go find them and talk to them.
I was wrong.
Small Company Prerogatives
In a startup, the founders breathe the same air. As a company grows, communications lines get labored. Meetings are necessary to share visions from the CEO to the Management and from the management to the crew. Without them, companies get lost. They feel rudderless and nobody really knows what they should be doing. Worse, they don’t know what they should be doing NEXT. And they really have no clue what they need to do to get the organization to where it needs to be in the future.
We spend a lot of time thinking hard about processes and efficiencies of the products we create, in our case Environmental Consulting. Shouldn’t we think hard about creating processes for advancing the company as a whole?
Death By Meeting
“Death By Meeting” was a highly influential book which explains we need to have MORE meetings not less. It also explains how to make sure your meetings aren’t awful. To be perfectly blunt, if meetings you call are awful, it’s your fault.
Soak that in.
If you yourself don’t want to go to meetings other people call, it’s because they don’t know how to run effective meetings. Meetings should be some of the most productive times of your day and yet for so many they aren’t.
Maybe you should change that?
Why Meetings You Call Are Awful
You don’t have an agenda.
If you can’t articulate the topic(s) of a meeting as an outline in an email, to be delivered in advance of the meeting, you shouldn’t have the meeting in the first place. If you can’t occasionally think of good topics that need to be discussed with your executive team at a meeting, you aren’t thinking hard enough about your business.
You didn’t prepare.
Meetings often have handouts that need to be printed in advance. Or, better yet, delivered as a PDF in advance. If you can’t be bothered to collect all the data so your team can read it in advance, you are awful at meetings.
You let people go off on tangents.
People love to make jokes, talk about their weekends and fritter away time. In addition, there are a lot of people who have trouble keeping one topic in mind until a conclusion. It takes guts to shut down and redirect a conversation. It’s conflict, which is often uncomfortable. Own the role as Master of Ceremonies of a meeting and keep people on task.
You didn’t decide anything.
If you call people to a meeting to decide something, you need to finish the meeting with a decision. If you don’t have the authority to decide, you’re the wrong person to hold the meeting (unless you are setting it up for someone else). Your team expects you to have actionable decisions and to dole out marching orders on the way forward.
You’re going through the motions, but you don’t really care.
Going through the motions happens because you don’t care about the job, or you’ve already made up your mind. Maybe you want your team’s buy-in. Maybe you feel like a meeting is “what you’re supposed to do”. If you don’t care about the job, quit. If you already made a decision, email the team with what you decided.
You let people hide in your meetings.
A meeting should be a live-action test to see if your team is engaged in the process. You should be looking at each of them for 1) the fact that they have relevant thoughts, and 2) how good their thoughts on the topic are. In these meetings your team members should be demonstrating they are bringing value to the organization with how hard they are thinking about issues that affect the future. If they hide, remain quiet and skulk out of the meeting without adding anything of value you should make note and actively NOT promote them because of it.
You don’t hold people accountable.
There are different types of meetings but my favorite type of meeting is “WHERE IS THAT THING YOU OWE ME!” If you are truly a team, people make promises to do things in meeting. The promises are to have them done, either at the next meeting, or eventually. Every recurring meeting is a new opportunity for ALL participants to prove they are engaged members of the team by explaining where the thing that you owe me is at, exactly.
I owe you.
You owe me.
If a meeting is done right, people should fear showing up to those meetings to explain to their team AGAIN why they don’t have that thing they owe the rest of the team done yet. It should get uncomfortable and they should feel the weight of their responsibility.
You invite the wrong people, or too many people.
Don’t invite people whose opinions don’t matter to the subject at hand. If you don’t care about their opinions, or if you think they hide in meetings, or if their opinions or instincts suck, you should not invite them. You should also not promote them. These people might be from the wrong department, or play a small supporting role in a decision, if that’s the case then don’t be too harsh. But you can have these outsiders make a presentation and then leave.
You have a bad attitude about meetings.
A blanket bad attitude about meetings means you are running bad meetings or are a bad participant OR that you don’t have the guts to open your mouth and tell whoever is running the meeting that they need to brush up on their meeting running skills.
Why Meetings You Attend Suck
You didn’t get your homework done.
Meetings often come with homework in advance. You need to read something in order to have digested the information so you can come to the table with your best ideas. If you have not done your homework you run the risk of looking foolish so you hide inside the meeting to not be noticed or called on. Worse yet is when you give an opinion or hot-take that is not fully formed or exposes the fact you didn’t do your homework. It’s an insult to whoever put on the meeting and to everyone who did the reading.
You have a bad attitude about meetings.
Do you ever get the feeling it might be you?
You are trying to hide.
Above we talked about not doing your homework. There’s another reason why meeting attendees hide.
You’re a political wimp.
Whoever called the meeting is some kind of office authority, maybe your boss. You don’t want to share your opinions in the event they contradict his/hers. You feel like the best thing for your future is to keep your mouth shut, see which way the wind blows and support whoever has the most “juice” in the room.
Shame on you.
If I saw you doing that you’d never get promoted again.
Types Of Meetings
5 Minute Stand-Up
This is a fast 5 minute check-in meeting to let your team know what you will accomplish this week, what’s changed, what’s new, and where you are at with the things you owe your team and with what they owe you. Some people swear the best way to do these meetings is to not sit down. I’ve done it both ways and standing does have it’s advantages.
This is a one hour meeting to talk about deeper subjects. Held once a week.
Strategic meetings set the path forward on the way to accomplishing bigger goals. Once a month, they should be 2 hours long and only cover 2 or 3 topics.
Quarterly or semi-annually, these meetings should be distraction free and offsite. They should have all the time they need to answer the hard questions that guide the way for the future.
Learning / training meeting are a different kind of animal and should not be like other business meetings. You are assembling a group to teach them together about something new. This is a time saving device.
Generic Agenda Items
- Where’s That Thing You Promised Me?
- What’s The Most Important Things You Are Working On This Week?
- What Are You Doing To Make Progress On Your (or) Our Long Term Goals?
Cost Of A Meeting
A meeting should be thought of in terms of what they cost. Add the salary in dollars per hour of everyone attending in the room. Then multiply it by the hours everyone is at the meeting. This gives you the cost for the meeting in salary. If you have 10 people in a meeting who each make $100,000 per year, their salaries cost $50 x 10 executives x 1 hour = $500 per hour. If you had to write a check for that after the meeting, would you want it taken out of your budget? If no, then maybe your attendee list should be trimmed or your topics should be altered until what you are talking about at the meeting is worth the money.
A3 Environmental Consultants is working hard to be the best darn company we can be. We’ve made mistakes, learned and grew from them. We perform environmental due diligence across all 50 States.