Be honest: have you ever taken 1-second naps at a meeting? What if the room is hot, the meeting is after lunch, the topic is boring, and the speaker has the charisma of a rock? Have you ever drawn doodles at a meeting? Daydreamed? Checked your messages?
Do you think it is rude to act bored at a meeting? It isn’t. It is rude to have bad meetings. If my meetings are bad, I am at fault. If your meetings are bad, then it is your fault. Most meetings are “BAD” for two reasons: (1) Nobody wants to be there, and (2) Nothing gets done.
Part of the problem is that many meetings are simply not necessary. There is only one reason to ever call a meeting; meetings are to develop shared understanding. If you need shared understanding, call a meeting. Otherwise, don’t.
If you must have a meeting, then you owe it to the attendees to plan for success. The first rule of successful meetings is:
Rule #1. Only call a meeting if you plan to keep minutes.
If the issue is important enough to consume time and resources, then it should be important enough to keep a record of the proceedings. Besides, if meeting outcomes are not written down, then they might as well not have happened. Undocumented decisions are rarely implemented. By establishing minutes as the minimum standard to justify calling a meeting, you can keep a lot of pointless meetings from ever occurring.
In addition to a record of the meeting, every successful meeting has three major elements.
First is the meeting structure. Your task, as the meeting organizer, is to define the purpose of the meeting. That means written goals, defined roles, and a framed context. Your primary tool to establish the meeting structure is a written agenda.
Rule #2. Written agendas are required.
Without an agenda, people just get together and talk. The agenda helps direct the conversation in productive directions. Also, people who are not on the agenda should not be invited. Inviting people just to listen is not inclusive, it is wasteful.
Rule #3. Participants without an active role should not attend.
Once you’ve defined the structure, the second major element of successful meetings is to establish process. The purpose in the agenda should drive the group process. The preparation, procedures, and execution used to make a group decision will be different than the ones used for a creative session. To make a decision, use a voting process. To be creative, use a brainstorming process. As the meeting purpose changes so should the process.
Rule #4. The meeting purpose must drive the process.
Whatever the process, always try to engage the maximum number of participants. People who are engaged in the process are rarely bored.
Rule #5. The price of attendance is engaged contribution (see Rule #3).
The third major element of a successful meeting is relationships. If you complete the agenda but the meeting participants hate each other, then your meeting is not fully successful. As a meeting organizer, you have to actively plan ways to nurture group relationships. Actively plan ways to encourage fun, manage conflicts, and celebrate achievements.
Rule #6. If your participants don’t want to come to your meeting, it is the organizer’s job to fix it. (See Rules 1-5).
Organizing a meeting is planning work. A good manager directs employees with a purpose, provides them with a process to follow, offers incentives for superior performance, and evaluates accomplishments. You should organize your meetings like a good manager. How can you tell a good manager from a bad manager?
Rule #7. Good managers have good meetings.