Meetings are a significant investment by an organisation.
Ideal world - people come into a common space to work together and solve problems effectively and quickly.
Reality - people attend meetings simply because it is in their calendar and treat the meetings as events to 'endure', interrupting their real work.
They OUGHT to be big time savers, but in reality they are more often the biggest waste of time (possibly second only to email - this email is the obvious exception 🙂) in a leader's week.
But when your organisation seems addicted to meetings, how can you make the best of that time?
First question: "Do I need to be there at all?"
Many of the meetings we attend are habituated, simple updates, or you're included to 'keep you in the loop' rather than contribute to outcome. So ask sincerely, "Do I need to be at this meeting?" If not, communicate with the convenor and get taken off the invite list (don't just not show up).
For the ones that do matter:
YOUR role in these time-expensive events is simple:
How well you do this will determine your influence. These four tips will make a difference.
1. Clear the decks
Be present - BE there at the meeting! An obvious point, but it is too easy to be unfocused and distracted, thinking about other work issues. Distractions undermine your ability to understand and communicate, you are just not as clever when you are not paying full attention.
Distractions (eg second screen whilst on a Zoom/Teams meeting) make you miss stuff - that you don't know you've missed. You may FEEL like you're nailing the meeting and getting some admin done at the same time; truth is you are doing neither to your best ability. Just like when you can see others who are distracted - they will see you're not really there. It is disrespectful of your time and theirs.
2. Think it through
Do the thinking work and come prepared. The meeting must have a clear agenda or outcome. So, think it through, and be clear about the outcome and purpose of the meeting. Be clear about where the discussion could go and work to it 'on point'.
The whole point of a meeting is to harness the power of many. To leverage from DIFFERENT perspectives, heuristics, and skills. So allow the meeting to think it through, the different brains applied to the context is the very point of the meeting. It is not to simply hear what the boss thinks and deploy.
3. Check your mind-state
Your effectiveness will be compromised if you are frustrated, tired, rushing, or stressed. In those mind-states, people are less able to communicate effectively. Less able to understand other people's perspectives. They are more likely to make face-saving / short-term decisions, engage in blame/guilt, and self-protective behaviour.
And those mind-states are contagious.
Even a marginal downgrade in mood across a meeting can have a material effect on creativity and problem-solving. Put simply the meeting 'disintegrates' and you lose the main benefit of holding a meeting in the first place; access to different perspectives that the different minds have, to solve the problems faced.
There IS NO POINT having a meeting where the participants are not listening to each other.
If you, or you can see that others, are in one of those mind states; simply pause for a few minutes, focus on your breath and dial the whole thing back 10 or 20% and then recommence.
4. Build good meeting and conversation habits
The more you and your team get used to thinking in this way, the more productive and easier the meetings will become.