Escape the Trap of Death by Meeting

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On December 27, 2019

Business meetingsHow Can You Avoid the Trap of Deadly Business Meetings?

Too many times, business leaders do nothing but talk while their businesses crumble underneath them. It’s not that they don’t care about business—or that they don’t want to make changes that will propel them forward. It’s that their meetings are all talk and no action. On top of that, they suck time and energy from key players who should be out fixing the company’s problems. The result is “death by meeting.” Let’s talk a bit about how you can escape the trap of death by meeting.

Not Just an Issue for Scaling Companies

Spending too much time in meetings isn’t just a problem for businesses that are scaling up. Even large corporations struggle with the issue. In fact, a recent CNN Business report stated that Microsoft managers in Japan recently urged staff to cut down on the time they spent in meetings and responding to emails—and suggested that meetings should last no longer than 30 minutes.

Of course, the issue is deeper than just the length of the meetings. Arbitrarily shortening meetings to 30 minutes won’t solve your problems.  And nobody is suggesting that all meetings should be cut out. The real issue is using meetings effectively and productively.

Not All Meetings Are the Same

First of all, it’s important to recognize that there are different types of meetings. There are meetings that convene for the purpose of creating a vision. That kind of meeting won’t be short and sweet. It requires a certain amount of brainstorming and the free exchange of ideas. Strategy meetings should be a bit more focused because you’ll be dealing with specific goals and tactics. Still, this type of meeting will also tend to be longer because you’ll have to flesh out more details. Neither of these two meetings is going to accomplish your goals in 30 minutes. That’s OK.

Progress or informational meetings are vehicles that allow you to monitor progress on specific goals and to pass on important information that can impact progress. These meetings should be relatively short and to the point. Depending on the size and complexity of your operation, you should probably be able to wrap everything up in 15 to 30 minutes. However, these are not brainstorming meetings or gripe sessions.

Many successful businesses have five-minute “stand-up” meetings.  The sole purpose of these meetings is to ensure that everyone is clear about the immediate goals for the day and that there are no obvious obstacles that will keep people from accomplishing their tasks.

Things All Meetings Should Have in Common

Even though meetings can differ widely, there are certain elements that should always be present.

  • Purpose: Every meeting should have a clear agenda. Everyone attending should know what the meeting is supposed to accomplish. While you probably won’t need a written agenda for a “stand-up” meeting, it’s probably a good idea to have one for all other meetings. It’s a reminder to whoever leads the meeting of the purpose.
  • Accountability: Every participant needs to be aware of their own accountability for what happens in the meeting—and as a result of the meeting. The leader needs to make clear that clear tasks are assigned and that participants understand that they will be called upon to report at the next meeting. Using the WWW (Who/What/When) method is helpful for this.
  • Preparation: Everyone who participates should come prepared. Some meetings will require discussion. It’s impossible to have a productive discussion if participants aren’t informed. I know of one company in which the leader would ask, “Who has read the material for this meeting?” Anyone who had not done their homework was not allowed to comment. One thing this accomplishes is that it keeps discussions from veering off into fruitless debates without solid evidence.

Good meetings can drive your company forward. Meetings without purpose, accountability, and preparation will lead to wasted time, frustration, and futility. Make your meetings count!