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The Worst Meeting of the Week and What to Do About It When It's Yours!

Updated: Mar 17, 2021

We've all been to that meeting. The one that never runs on time, some people over talk and others never say a word. For some, it is a weekly event in the calendar that turns up like a bad penny. It never gains in value and your outlook for attending is permanently tarnished.

As a leader, you probably don’t wake up intending to host the worst meeting in someone’s week. The mistake most leaders make is over emphasizing the value people place on being “in the know”. They spend too much time on updates and it’s like pulling teeth to get people to contribute.

When I was a young leader, I vividly recall one of the best meetings I ever attended. I was invited to stand in for my boss and attend the weekly operations meeting. I was thrilled to be chosen out of 52 managers. I was eager to attend as I would finally be on the inner circle of where decisions got made.

I walked away with pages of notes and a whole new appreciation for what went into deciding on what price would be set in the market. I had such a narrow view as a front-line sales person that every sale was a good one. My understanding of what went into their analysis forever changed how I would create business cases for every single thing I’d ask for.

Fast forward ten years later when I was at the executive table, having attended thousands of meetings. I’ve come I to realize how tedious and unproductive most meetings are. In fact, according Forbes 70% of senior leaders consider meetings a waste of time that keep us from deep work.

How do we get back to those meetings where we show up like the novice manager, take notes and walk away with a fresh perspective that stretches our thinking? We need to make meetings a hotbed of opportunity to get work done and grow.

The key to unlocking the value people place on a meeting is understanding the relationship between engagement and competency.

Engaged / Not Engaged

Don’t Know, Don’t Care

These attendees don’t know and they have no idea why they should care. It’s not my area and I can’t make any connection to how this discussion would help me.

Know, Don’t Care

  • For high achievers a slow, meandering meeting is painful. They know the topic but because the meeting is way off track, they don’t care. They’ve lost interest because all they can focus on is the ticking clock.

  • For others, unless they have competency in a topic, they will not speak up, but they are thinking – deeply. We often miss out on valuable feedback because because we don’t invite it or make it safe to contribute.

“Quiet people have the loudest minds.” Steven Hawking

Don’t Know, Care

  • These people can be helpful, or unhelpful, depending on how their contributions are facilitated.

  • It’s not always welcome advice to hear from people who don’t know but passionately share on a topic because they “care so much”.

  • On the other hand, if they contribute by asking thought provoking questions, with the end in mind of helping the team win, it can be a game changer

Know, Care

  • Boiling the feedback down to the common ground of shared competencies such as people, time management, resources allocation, and process we can create a setting where people both know and care about the outcome of the discussion.

Turning this around is not only simple, it’s imperative. Working in a virtual or semi-virtual environment, our ability to tune out, zone out or not engage is far greater. The risk is high and the perception that people are less productive out of the office is rising.

As leaders, we need our meetings to be engaging as the gateway to productivity. The key is to elevate the agenda around helping people care about the topic, and to feel they have the competency to contribute.

First, help people care about the meeting. Here are a few suggestions on getting people to care:

  • State the purpose in the invitation: The purpose of this meeting is to bring problems, decisions, and roadblocks on projects and priorities that connects to the vision of the company.

  • Connect to the vision. If your company vision is to be the leader in your market, every discussion should connect to be removing roadblocks and sharing momentum towards achieving that vision.

  • Ask attendees to come prepared with a challenge or a success that can create forward momentum for everyone.

  • Remove the word update from your agenda. Don’t need to waste valuable connecting time on something that can be read in a memo

  • Set time limits, ask everyone to share their experience and ask great questions

  • Ask for commitments

Second, help people feel competent to contribute. The more strategic the meeting, the broader the scope, the less we feel we have the adequate skills and knowledge to contribute. A skilled meeting facilitation will boil the problem down to common ground. What is the competency that if improved, would help each contributor find answers to their own issues?

By sharing experiences and success stories, every person can take that relatable experience back to their own work. The person presenting gets that much needed perspective by hearing other points of view to broaden their thinking on a key subject – much like I felt all those years ago.

The goal for running a highly engaged meeting is to get everyone above the line by helping them care about the outcomes. It’s also about finding a common ground of competency by running a shared experience meeting versus an advice-giving, how to, meeting.

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