Have your people call my people

I never drink coffee—except when it’s the only thought brewing at a meeting.

According to a survey by Robert Half International, 45 percent of senior executives believe their employees would be more productive if their companies banned meetings at least one day each week.

If only.

Right? Meetings are notorious time wasters. I once stared at the second hand of my wristwatch for a full ten minutes straight. (Wait—that was in a Penn State Humanities lecture.) But it could’ve happened in any number of real meetings. Economist John Kenneth Galbraith once declared that meetings are indispensable—when you don’t want to do anything. How many of these have you survived?

  • Meetings with no apparent purpose. “It’s just our regular meeting time.”
  • Meetings hijacked by conversational filibusterers steering discussions entirely off-topic and holding the agenda hostage.
  • Circular discussions that only and eventually lead back to and rehash (again!) the original points without deciding anything. AKA “Death by Discussion.”
  • Conference calls that fail to engage anyone on the phone because they’re likely doing other things while “listening.”
  • Meetings that don’t enable anyone to actually do their jobs.
  • The Interruption Symphony performed by everyone’s electronic devices sounding off, complete with overtures, sonatas, movements, and allegros.
  • The several-days-long Retreat, in which productivity up and leaves after the first couple of hours, and only the sorry attendees remain behind.

Research by neuroscientists at the University of Minnesota has shown that our alert brains hold a limited amount of cognitive (conscious reasoning) resources. Once they get depleted or fatigued—say by a purposeless or interminable meeting—we tend to lose focus and make less well-informed decisions and choices. Aimless, meandering and long meetings are simply counterproductive.

But meetings, when properly designed and managed correctly, can be one of the most productive parts of your day. I was absolutely thrilled when I had finally assembled a team for a particular project, who was able to accomplish more in its first meeting than I had only been able to talk about for the entire previous year. It can be done!

But dynamic meetings do not emerge fully formed from your brain’s primordial ooze! Evolving a successful and productive meeting process comes from purposeful planning and intentional leading. For better results and happier employees, build with the 5 Cs of Constructive Meetings:

  • Cause: Create an agenda with the meeting’s expected outcomes identified. No agenda means no meeting. Distribute relevant information and ask your participants to review it in advance.
  • Constraints: Limit the length to an hour or less. Limit action items to just two or three.
  • Conduct: Promise and deliver on the starting and ending times. Don’t wait or review for late-comers. Your colleagues and teammates are also busy and will appreciate it.
  • Control: Limit the discussion to the agenda topics. Explain that if other issues are raised, however valid, they will be written down and placed in a “parking lot” to be addressed in the future. Interrupt people who repeat themselves.
  • Conclude: Assign specific action items and accountability to specific individuals.

And as for the coffee? No longer will it be the only stimulant at the meeting!

MasterPoint: Constructive meetings make productive people.