Seven Sins of Deadly Meetings by Eric Matson

Seven Sins of Deadly Meetings by Eric Matson

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Seven Sins of Deadly Meetings by Eric Matson


Sin #1: People don't take meetings seriously. They arrive late, leave early, and spend most of their time doodling.
Salvation: Adopt the mind-set that meetings are real work.
There are as many techniques to improve the "crispness" of meetings as there are items on the typical meeting agenda. Some companies punish latecomers with a penalty fee or reprimand them in the minutes of the meeting. But these techniques address symptoms, not the disease. Disciplined meetings are about mind-set -- a shared conviction among all the participants that meetings are real work. That all-too-frequent expression of relief -- "Meeting's over, let's get back to work" -- is the mortal enemy of good meetings.
"Most people simply don't view going to meetings as doing work," says William Daniels. "You have to make your meetings uptime rather than downtime."

On the wall you can have a poster with a series of simple questions about the meetings that take place there. Do you know the purpose of this meeting? Do you have an agenda? Do you know your role? Do you follow the rules for good minutes?

These posters are a visual reminder of just how serious the company is about productive meetings.

Sin #2: Meetings are too long. They should accomplish twice as much in half the time.

Salvation: Time is money. Track the cost of your meetings and use computer- enabled simultaneity to make them more productive.

Almost every guru invokes the same rule: meetings should last no longer than 90 minutes. When's the last time your company held to that rule?
One reason meetings drag on is that people don't appreciate how expensive they are.

Therefore talk about the cost of bad meetings. Because bad meetings lead to even more meetings, and over time the costs become awe-inspiring.

Sin #3: People wander off the topic. Participants spend more time digressing than discussing.
Salvation: Get serious about agendas and store distractions in a "parking lot." It's the starting point for all advice on productive meetings: stick to the agenda.

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But it's hard to stick to an agenda that doesn't exist, and most meetings in most companies are decidedly agenda-free. "In the real world," says Schrage, "agendas are about as rare as the white rhino. If they do exist, they're about as useful. Who hasn't been in meetings where someone tries to prove that the agenda isn't appropriate?"
Agendas are worth taking seriously. A good agenda lists the meeting's key topics, who will lead which parts of the discussion, how long each segment will take, what the expected outcomes are, and so on.

Sin #4: Nothing happens once the meeting ends. People don't convert decisions into action.
Salvation: Convert from "meeting" to "doing" and focus on common documents.
The problem isn't that people are lazy or irresponsible. It's that people leave meetings with different views of what happened and what's supposed to happen next. Meeting experts are unanimous on this point: even with the ubiquitous tools of organization and sharing ideas -- whiteboards, flip charts, Post-it notes -- the capacity for misunderstanding is unlimited.
The best way to avoid that misunderstanding is to convert from "meeting" to "doing" -- where the "doing" focuses on the creation of shared documents that lead to action. The fact is, at most powerful role for technology is also the simplest: recording comments, outlining ideas, generating written proposals, projecting them for the entire group to see, printing them so people leave with real-time minutes. Forget groupware; just get yourself a good outlining program and oversized monitor.

Sin #5: People don't tell the truth. There's plenty of conversation, but not much candor.
Salvation: Embrace anonymity.
We all know it's true: Too often, people in meetings simply don't speak their minds. Sometimes the problem is a leader who doesn't solicit participation. Sometimes a dominant personality intimidates the rest of the group. But most of the time the problem is a simple lack of trust. People don't feel secure enough to say what they really think.
The most powerful techniques to promote candor rely on technology, and most of these computer-based tools focus on anonymity -- enabling people to express opinions and evaluate alternatives without having to divulge their identities
Sin #6: Meetings are always missing important information, so they postpone critical decisions.
Salvation: Get data, not just furniture, into meeting rooms.
Most meeting rooms make it harder to have good meetings. They're sterile and uninviting -- and often in the middle of nowhere. Why? To help people "concentrate" by removing them from the frenzy of office life. But this isolation leaves meeting rooms out of the information flow. Often, the downside of isolation outweighs the benefits of focus.

Sin #7: Meetings never get better. People make the same mistakes.
Salvation: Practice makes perfect. Monitor what works and what doesn't and hold people accountable.
Meetings are like any other part of business life: you get better only if you commit to it -- and aim high. In virtually every meeting ensure that someone serves as an "observer" and makes a list.The list records what went right and what went wrong, and gets included in the minutes. Over time, both for specific meeting groups and for the company as a whole, these lists create an agenda for change.
How much can meetings improve? According to Bernard DeKoven: "People don't have good meetings because they don't know what good meetings are like. Good meetings aren't just about work. They're about fun -- keeping people charged up. It's more than collaboration, it's 'coliberation' -- people freeing each other up to think more creatively."
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