Stop The Spread Of Meeting-itis With 2 Simple Steps

Does the thought of going to your next meeting make you feel ill?

Is your organization suffering from the following symptoms?

  • Scarcity: Conference rooms are constantly in short supply. There is a queue impatiently waiting outside for the prior meeting to wrap-up so that the next one can start.
  • Lethargy: Peek inside the average meeting room and you’ll see a group of bored, distracted and disengaged participants slogging through another poorly managed meeting.
  • Irritability: Meetings are getting in the way of the work that really matters, leaving everyone drained and frustrated at the end of the day.

If this sounds familiar, you may have meeting-itis.

Like the common cold, meeting-itis is exhausting, persistent, and contagious. It can be cured, but not easily. Once it takes root in an organization’s culture, it is difficult to eradicate. Doing so will require time, effort, and executive sponsorship. In the meantime, there are some preventative measures you can take to stop the spread of meeting-otis.

Tracing The Origins Of The Disease
Once upon a time, it was difficult to schedule a meeting. Each prospective attendee had to be independently approached to check his / her availability and to convince them of the value of attending. With the advent of Outlook, however, it became easy to schedule meetings at will without ever having to justify their necessity. Because of this as well as inconsistent capabilities in framing and managing meetings, our standards for what good looks like have steadily declined. These days success appears to be defined by nothing more than attendance.

Keeping Meeting-itis At Bay
It’s not necessary to suffer through another day of this common organizational ailment. Demonstrate to yourself and others that there is a better way…

1. At the beginning of each meeting you attend, ask: “What do we want to be different by the end of this discussion?”

How this helps: In theory, every single meeting should advance critical objectives. In practice, meeting-itis sets in when meetings are used to talk about work instead of to do work. People schedule meetings with titles like “discuss marketing plan” or “project update.” The agenda, if there is one, is often just a list of topics. Neither the subject nor agenda signal to the attendees why they were invited, or what they are there to achieve.

This is where you can help. By asking the question right at the start, you are raising the value of the meeting for everyone. If the meeting owner is clear about the purpose, he or she will answer in less than 10 seconds. Here are the kinds of answers you want to hear:

“We’ll have decided whether to fund Project X;”
• “We’ll have completed a root cause analysis for the X problem;”
• “We’ll be clear on Q4 priorities and prepared to communicate them to our teams; or
• “We’ll have a shared understanding of how we’re performing against our KPIs and what actions to take based on that information.”

Once the purpose has been clearly articulated, the attendees will know what questions to ask and what information to share. The meeting owner will have a better chance of keeping the meeting on track. For that one meeting, the spread of meeting-itis will be blocked.

2. At the end of each meeting ask “What did we conclude and what actions should we take as a result of this conversation?”

How this helps: Most meetings end when the clock runs out. People start trickling out of the room or hopping off the call without knowing exactly what was accomplished. Prevent this behavior by proactively managing time. When there are 3 – 5 minutes remaining, asking these two questions will prompt the group to check for shared conclusions. Someone may say “I think we decided to fund Project X.” Someone else may say, “Wait, I thought we decided to hold off on making a final decision before we review the data one more time.”

Taking a minute to reconcile discrepancies ensures that the progress made in the meeting sticks and that people take the appropriate follow-up actions. It also preempts the need for a follow-up meeting or long email exchange to clean up the confusion.

Done consistently, small steps like these can make a big difference. Preventing yet another cause of meeting-it is will inspire others to follow your lead, creating a happier, healthier workplace for everyone.