Making Meetings Matter

Miriam Gilbert
28 January 19

Making Meetings Matter

“Let’s have more meetings!” “Make them longer!” said no one ever.

Meetings are a fact of corporate life but they are rarely relished. Employees and managers alike see them as a necessary nuisance at best. At worst, they are a frustrating disruption to the real work.

Havard Business Review estimates that 15% of all corporate time is spent in meetings, with half of them being seen as useless.

That is a lot of time (and money) wasted!

We are usually told that there are a number of reasons why meetings are unproductive:

  • Attendees don’t pay attention but multitask by sending emails or reading other materials
  • Attendees are not prepared, thus a lot of meeting time goes on bringing everyone up to speed
  • Attendees are late (often those are the most senior people!) thus wasting everyone else’s time
  • There is no structure to the meeting and no follow up

And while these are all valid issues, the real reason why so many meetings are not valuable is something else.

It is the very fact that most of us see meetings as something that is not WORK. Sure it happens while we are AT work, but we perceive meetings as something different, separate from our REAL work.

Just reflect: how many times do you hear: “let’s finish this meeting and get back to work”. Or “if I wasn’t in these meetings, I could get on with my work”. Maybe you even say it yourself.

It demonstrates the mental segregation we have when thinking about meetings. And it comes as no surprise that if we don’t see meetings as work, why would we afford them the same care as we do give to our other work? It explains why we don’t prepare beforehand or pay full attention while in the meeting.

Yet, meetings (or gatherings, ceremonies, or any other name) are important parts of agile methodologies. Whether you use SCRUM, Kanban, lean or another approach, the purpose of meetings are to share information, create discussions, enable planning, making decisions and facilitate essential learning. Without these activities, the effectiveness and efficiency of the agile approach are seriously compromised.

And that is what happens when meetings are considered to be outside of work, and when we simply go through the motions instead of engaging in them.

So what can we do to turn meetings into a valuable part of our agile workday?

The very first step is to change our mindset about them and treating meetings as an integral part of our work.

The second step I have adapted from Oprah Winfrey who apparently starts all her meetings this way. Every meeting that I take I will ask three questions on the outset:

      • What is our intention for this meeting?
      • What’s important?
      • What matters?

I might change the words slightly. Or I might just ask them of myself if it is not a meeting where I can ask those questions openly (In those cases, I question why I am there and try to extract myself).

But since adopting this approach, meetings have become a lot more focused, effective and even enjoyable!

And if you really want to make the most of your meetings, you could consider this advanced move: ask your attendees to give a brief star rating after each meeting. Ask them if they would recommend this meeting based on how good it was – and if it wasn’t what they will do to improve it next time.

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