ALC English Journal October 2012

Meaningless Meetings

QUESTION: “My whole day is an endless string of attending meaningless meetings, which are a complete waste of time. Help!”

ANSWER: Unfortunately every day millions of employees just like you drown in a sea of worthless meetings. Meetings cost money! Just multiply everyone’s hourly pay by the length of a meeting to estimate how much. Whether you’re the leader or just a participant, you have a responsibility to make your meetings worth your company’s investment.

Make your meetings “R.O.A.R.R.”! The elements of effective meetings are concisely summarized in this acronym. Follow this simple recipe to make meetings into a valuable use of time.

Have a REASON for meeting. When you’re invited to attend a meeting and you don’t know why it’s being held, or why you’re invited, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask “What’s the purpose of this meeting?” If this question can’t be answered the meeting should be canceled or you politely decline the invitation. No meeting should be purposeless.

  • Define the OUTCOMES expected by the end of each meeting. What must be accomplished in the meeting? Is there information to be exchanged, a decision to be made, a problem to be solved? The only thing achieved during many meetings is that the team agrees to meet again!
  • Create an AGENDA estimating how time will be spent. Post this agenda where everyone can see it, and monitor the time spent on each item. You don’t need to follow the agenda exactly. An agenda is a guideline, not a straightjacket!
  • Agree on RULES for participants. Every team should create “Team Working Together Agreements”. These should include starting and ending meetings on time, mobile phone use guidelines, decision-making processes, listening generously, and treating each other with respect. Post agreements prominently, and share responsibility for reminding each other to follow them.
  • Share ROLES among participants. If you’re the leader, ask for help, and if you’re a participant, offer help. Some important roles are Timekeeper, Note-taker, and Action Item Recorder. Have a Scribe who captures highlights of discussions on flip charts on the wall, and use a Facilitator separate from the leader, who focuses on meeting processes so the Leader can focus on the content.
  • Pluses & Changes. Spend three minutes at the end of each meeting for a meeting review. Ask “What was effective in today’s meeting?” and “What could we change to make our next meeting even more effective?” Incorporate changes to improve the value of the team’s time together.

The purpose of meetings is communication, and communication is important work. If you apply these straightforward practices to your meetings you will transform them from a waste of time into an effective way to get work done. Choose one area at a time to focus on and make your meetings ROARR!

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