Stop Wasting Your Time in Meetings – Establish Meeting Expectations
Meetings go long. Attendees stealthily text under the table like no one can see them. One person talks the whole time, while everyone else rolls their eyes. The decision maker isn’t there, forcing you to have another meeting. All the while, the facilitator does nothing.
The amount of time wasted in unproductive meetings and the degree of frustration meeting participants feel is astronomical.
The solution is simple.
Set clear meeting expectations at the beginning of EVERY meeting and hold people accountable when they violate the guidelines.
Most meeting facilitators don’t set expectations at the beginning of meetings. Instead they expect attendees to follow the unstated, assumed guidelines. And when the meeting facilitators’ boss, peers or customers are on their phone, it’s too hard to say something. So facilitators ignore the behavior, hoping it will stop without intervention.
The key to getting what you want in meetings (and in life) is to ask, which for the most part, we don’t. We assume people will do things as we do.
Tips for Running a Good Meeting:
1. Set meeting expectations at your next meeting.
2. Write the expectations on a flip chart and hang them up at the beginning of every meeting. Or download our meeting expectations poster and hang it in your conference rooms.
3. Review the meeting expectations every time you meet, even with groups who meet weekly.
4. Ask meeting participants’ permission to manage meeting behavior. Your role as the meeting facilitator gives you the right to address bad meeting behavior. Asking for permission and letting people know you will say something if you see their phone etc., makes it easier to speak up.
5. Tell participants they are expected to hold themselves and each other accountable.
6. Then hold people accountable for following the meeting expectations. If you ask people not to side talk, address side talking when you hear it. If you ask people not to be on their laptops or phones, ask people to put them away. If one person talks too long, interrupt him. You will have no credibility if you set expectations but don’t hold people accountable.
The reason facilitators don’t hold people accountable is that they feel uncomfortable. It’s hard to tell your peers, boss and other coworkers not to talk in circles. It’s almost impossible if you don’t set expectations about meeting behavior and set the expectation that you will say something when the meeting expectations are violated.
The simple act of setting meeting expectations and asking people’s permission to manage to those expectations makes doing so easier. Not easy, but easier. Asking your boss to put her phone away will never be easy, but it will be easier if you let her know BEFORE she pulls it out that you’ll do so.
You may be thinking, “I don’t run these meetings. I’m an innocent victim.”
As a meeting participant it is frustrating to go to poorly run meetings. But it’s also your role to speak up when you see things going poorly. Go to the meeting facilitator and give feedback. If you’re not sure what to say, follow The Feedback Formula outlined in my book How to Say Anything to Anyone.
Express empathy: “That Wednesday team meeting is tough. I wouldn’t want to run it.”
Ask permission to give feedback: “I’ve got a few observations and suggestions. Is it ok if I share them?”
Give feedback: “I’ve noticed that several people have been missing the meeting and others are on their phones and laptops during meetings. This definitely limits what we can get done and must be frustrating to you. What are your thoughts?”
Make a suggestion: “What do you think of setting meeting expectations at the next meeting and then telling people you’re going to hold them accountable?”
Offer help: “You’re not alone in this meeting. I’d be happy to tee up this discussion and explain why we need to set meeting expectations. What do you think?”
The facilitator knows the meetings aren’t going well. She just doesn’t know what to do. Offer to help. Don’t judge. She might be more receptive than you think. And you can stop suffering through poorly run meetings.