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Buying into Better Meetings

Many of us feel frustrated by all the unproductive meetings we attend. Why is it that we allow ourselves to continue to conduct business meetings the same way over and over again, knowing that so many of them are unproductive? Have we resigned to a life of wasteful meetings, assuming this is the only way to work? Perhaps we believe there is some unidentified factor that makes some meetings great, but that we have little to no control over. Or maybe, we just know change is hard and haven’t yet worked up the courage to take the first step.

Change is hard but not changing will cost you more

In “Do you know the real costs of bad meetings?,” we outlined a few of the consequences of poor meeting practices. We discussed a few of the tangible, identifiable economic costs and the intangible organizational costs. How much longer are you willing to pay these costs?

We recognize old meeting habits die hard. It’s challenging to introduce change into an organizational culture and start building good habits. However, it is possible to have efficient and effective meetings and change the meeting culture of your organization. If you follow these approaches based on John Kotter’s process for leading change, you can make great things happen in your meetings, with your team, and in your organization.

1. Identify the current reality.

Before others will get on board with change, they need to understand the difference between “what is” and “what could be.” Some people are motivated by the pain whereas others are driven by a sense of vision of a better state.

Start by reflecting on what challenges you face in your meetings. Think about the situation from your own perspective, your team members’ perspectives, and the perspectives of other key stakeholders. Here is a list to get you started.

  • Lack of planning/preparation by the meeting organizer

  • Lack of preparation by meeting attendees

  • Staying on track

  • Inability to reach agreement

  • Rehashing old decisions or topics

  • Lack of follow through

  • Too much time spent, etc.

  • People show up late/leave early

  • Unclear outcomes or next steps

  • People multi-tasking/using technology devices

  • Others...

You can calculate how much time and money meetings cost your team or company using this form.

2. Envision a better future.

The current reality sets a baseline, but the vision is often what draws people in and inspires them. Get a sense of how more impactful meetings could make a difference by considering these questions.

  • How much more could my team accomplish if they had an extra work day each week to accomplish their work?

  • What would we gain if all team members, especially introverted members, felt empowered to share their thoughts in meetings?

  • What if my virtual teammates felt more connected to the meeting and could contribute to the conversation more effectively?

  • What would be different if everyone was engaged in the meeting conversation - no multi-tasking, no daydreaming, etc.

  • What if great ideas were always recorded and you always knew where to find them?

  • How much more could we accomplish if everyone walked out of the meeting room feeling confident and knowing exactly what to do next?

  • How would meetings be different if everyone understood why there were there and came to the meeting well-prepared?

3. Determine the optimal approach to get buy-in.

You know your organizational culture and how best to introduce changes to practices, policies, and technology. How would you make the case for changing your team or organization’s meeting practices? Here are a few options to consider:

Engage your team in the process

Engage your team in identifying the problems, dreaming about the future, and coming up with the solutions to implement in your meeting. Try applying design thinking to redesign the meeting experience. Leverage the pre-thinking you did in steps 1 and 2 to set the stage, but be sure to empower the whole team to contribute to the analysis and dreaming. This will help them buy into the need for change and solutions.

Present a business case for change

Present a case for change by showing the economic effects of bad meetings and the power of a better future. Make it relevant to your organization by using numbers you come up with using the form above. Answer questions like “How much money could our company save if we had half as many meetings?” or “how much less turnover might we have if team members felt less stressed and more valued?”

Lead by example, share through experience

Lead by example so that people experience a better meeting right away. If you have the power and influence to introduce changes on your own, go for it. Sometimes the best way to get buy-in is through direct experience. If your meetings start to consistently be productive, you can begin sharing your secrets with a choir who is already on your side.

4. Start simple.

Start with one change that you can control, measure, and use to demonstrate the power of the positive change in your meetings. Doing so will help your team members buy into other changes you choose to implement. For a simple, yet power change you can implement immediately, we recommend a five-minute check-out. Using our check-out procedures, you can leverage the last five minutes of your meeting to promote effective follow-through. We expect your team will quickly see the value in this simple practice. Once they do, try adding a second practice, slowly building into a whole new way of managing meetings.

5. Sustain the new practices.

It’s easy to slip back into old habits. Sustaining and institutionalizing new behaviors are critical. Experts say it takes at least two months for a new habit to form. Celebrate small wins by acknowledging when a teammate creates an agenda or shares good meeting notes. Include your meeting practices as part of the onboarding of new team members.

There is no better time than right now

There will always be a tension between what is urgent and what is important. Implementing changes, especially for meetings, takes time and often doesn’t feel urgent. The key is to recognize how important it is and that ultimately, an investment of time now will pay off exponentially down the road when your organization gets hundreds of hours back in the workday and out of bad meetings.

We are here to help you have productive, impactful meetings. Let us know what other questions you have, or what challenges your organization is facing when trying to adopt new meeting practices. Has your organization implemented meeting practices that have improved your effectiveness? We want to hear about those too.



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