I first wrote this article in 2012, after listening to a piece on National Public Radio about the problems with business meetings.
As I listened to the “new” tips on having successful meetings, I felt I was in a time warp. These were tips I’d taught in management training sessions on successful meetings for years! Wait a minute! Hadn’t things changed with the GenX-ers and GenY-ers with Smart Phones glued to their fingers?
It seems like the same problems that plagued business meetings in the past are the same today, but now with Millennials in the picture. The workplace may have changed, but many of the tips are still true today and can take the boredom and agony of meetings that seem to wander aimlessly and forever, with no end in sight.
Here they are, updated for today’s workplace.
1. Have an agenda.
A meeting where everyone just gathers around the table and wanders from one topic to another is pointless and will drive everyone crazy. Email an agenda beforehand, with a timeframe for presenters, and hand out copies at the meeting or post on a whiteboard. Go retro, and print out copies on paper for everyone. Mark off agenda items as you go. Checking them off shows progress and builds momentum.
2. Invite the right people.
Forget about the organization chart, department list, or titles that people (especially millennials) don’t care about anyway. Get the people who know the issue or problem the best (are closest to the source) and/or who are going to have to live with or administer the outcomes. That may mean the front-line customer service reps, the team from maintenance, or the security guards – and some managers. “Stakeholders” may be an old term, but hearing from them early on will result in better decisions.
3. Have a strong meeting leader.
It may not be the person who called the meeting. Choose a strong, respected person or a facilitator to keep everyone on task. The leader has the responsibility to get through the agenda items and the authority to tell someone they are off track or talking too much.
4. Consider meeting rules.
Rules like, “everyone has an equal voice,” or “no personal attacks,” or “rank doesn’t mean right” set the tone for everyone in the meeting and are self-monitoring. At least everyone starts out on the same page. Introduce the meeting rules at the beginning of the meeting.
5. Keep cell phones off and out of site.
It is not enough to just turn them off or place them face down. If they are visible, someone will soon be texting or checking messages under the table. The vibration signaling a call or message is Pavlovian, triggering an uncontrollable response. Tip #7 should help calm the terror of 90 minutes without a digital connection.
6. Limit laptops, iPads, or other digital devices unless the meeting requires everyone to be logged in or online.
Adult attention span is down to about 10 seconds, so with all those temptations, you need every advantage to keep eyes on the leader and minds on the topic.
7. Take breaks.
Ninety minutes is max for the brain and the butt. Take 10 minutes to check emails, text, or take a comfort break. If you’re going to limit digital devices, take a break so everyone can catch up.
8. Get everyone involved.
It is the leader’s responsibility to make sure everyone participates. There are techniques like brainstorming, going around the table for ideas (one pass allowed, then you have to participate), and using different color cards for decision making. If people don’t participate, they don’t get invited back.
9. Engage remote participants.
If participants are conferencing in as well as on-site, treat them like regular participants. Include them in brainstorming and decision making. By calling on those remote participants, they are on notice and are less likely to turn off the volume and catch up on Facebook or conquer the next level in Candy Crush.
10. Have some fun.
Bring in snacks. Food always draws a crowd. Bring some squeeze toys, Legos, or Play Dough to stimulate creativity and relieve stress. Play stimulates creative thinking. Adults are just big kids, and if they spend time thinking while putting Lego pieces together, they at least aren’t checking email messages or texting.
Whether it’s 2008 or 2018 and beyond, human nature doesn’t change that much. The tools and toys may have changed, but people are people. These tips will help make meetings more productive, add some fun, stimulate creativity, and get results. That means fewer meetings, which will make everyone happy.
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