The Mentorist

Suppose They Gave a Meeting and Nobody Came?

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“Doing more with less” has become the business mantra in recent years – resulting in cutbacks to budgets, hiring, staffing and outside spending.

So why isn’t anybody thinking about how “doing more with less” should be applied to meetings?

I’ve probably spent 80% of my ‘C’-level career in meetings.   And roughly half of that meeting time was a waste of my time.

To tame the meeting beast, try following these seven guidelines:

1. Before scheduling a meeting, ask yourself, “Is having a meeting the best way to get what I’m looking for?”

Meetings should exist for a purpose:  The leader needs to communicate something to the people there — and, typically, wants something back from them.

Make certain that holding a meeting is the best way to achieve your purpose.

2. Then ask yourself, “Who really needs to be there?”

Don’t invite people you don’t need.  Just because an organizationally designated group exists (a leadership team, say) doesn’t necessarily mean that every single person in that group needs to be at your meeting.  Err on the side of lean.

3. Designate a time block for the meeting.  Then stick to it.

Of course, exceptions will occur:  If the discussion at your meeting turns so hot that cutting it off midstream could prove harmful, you may need to keep going past the scheduled end time.  But how often is that really the case?  Don’t make the exception the rule.

Start your meeting on time – even if some people aren’t there yet.  If you develop a habit of punctuality — and a mature way of registering disapproval of latecomers — people will quickly get the hint:  They need to show up on time

4. Set an agenda. Follow it.

Create an agenda of meeting topics you plan to cover and allot time slots for each.  Send out your agenda before the meeting.  If you can’t do that, because the meeting is impromptu (stuff happens, after all), jot the agenda down on a piece of notepaper for your own use as meeting leader.

5. Tell people how you expect them to prepare.

Do you want them to have read the latest sales report before they enter the room?  A management article in Harvard Business Review?  Then make your expectations clear.

And don’t waste valuable meeting time “filling in” the people who failed to come prepared.  Their performance at the meeting will suffer.  Next time, they may remember that lack of preparation has a consequence.

6. Be absolutely clear what you want back from your meeting attendees.

I once worked with a CEO who ran phenomenal meetings.  As each agenda item came up, he would tell people why the topic was on the agenda.  He had three categories:

  • Information:  He was simply sharing information people needed to know;
  • Input:  He wanted input from the people at the meeting, but no group decision was involved; and
  • Decision:  He needed the group’s decision on how to move forward.

People often don’t know what you, as meeting leader, want back from them.  Don’t make them guess.

7. Try to have some fun.Meeting-2-6846455366_934e68f3f6_o_crop-958x340

“T’aint What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It),” Ella Fitzgerald’s wise words.  Think about finding a way to cover “the usual” at your meeting, but with a bit of humor and pizazz.  (It can be done:  A budget director I know delivers his quarterly updates in such a creative way that people look forward to coming to his meetings!)

Author: Jane E. Owens

Jane E. Owens, The Mentorist’s chief blogger, has spent her career immersed in the business and culture of corporations and law firms. A former general counsel and corporate lawyer, Jane is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the professional world – and, through her mentoring practice, hopes to increase the ranks of the former. To learn more about Jane or suggest topics you'd like The Mentorist to discuss, go to:

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