How to avoid "meeting death" syndrome

17 September 2011 -


While many people, see meetings as a bore, Caitlin Mackesy-Davies says that they can be valuable if you do them right

The cost of some meetings is terrifying. Gordon Brown’s doomed government took a drubbing when statistics showed that Cabinet meetings he held in UK constituencies each cost around £80,000. There’s now even a gadget that will calculate how much each meeting costs, according to its length, number of attendees and an average hourly wage.

Then why meet? Well, some of what you hate about meetings is why they can be valuable. That break from your inbox of urgent messages can free you up to consider larger issues in the business and find out more about how your tasks and challenges mesh with others. And we’ve all got a need to interact face to face with people we work with – to put a name to a face, build trust and cement relationships. Finally, it’s a moment when a diverse group of people can really concentrate on a problem at hand and agree on collaborative action.

So how can you ensure you lead a meeting that lives up to its potential?

Follow the leader

Instead of putting one person in charge and letting the rest doze off, doodle or dream the meeting away, pass the chairman’s baton to a new person every 10 minutes (or at another reasonable interval). This will keep everyone’s head in the game and also head off meeting monopolisers.

Wander wall

Write each challenge on a big piece of paper and hang them around your meeting room. Arm everyone with a marker pen so they can walk the room and write up any solutions or ideas they have for each issue. Discuss them right away, or follow them up post-meeting, whichever suits your timetable.

Card sharp

Put everyone’s business cards (or just their names) in a pile and pick names out for responses or opinions when it comes to making decisions. You’d be surprised how quickly that will focus people’s minds!

Cut your losses

Don’t be afraid to end a meeting if the group isn’t making progress, or to excuse people who have done their bit. It’s not an endurance event, so if it just isn’t happening, suggest other ways to continue the discussions outside the session.

Go no-tech

If the temptation to check a smartphone is proving too much for those coming to meetings, put a blanket ban on technology next time. That said, if you have scheduled a marathon session, plan email breaks when everyone can quickly check in.

Quick start

Assign everyone a pre-meeting project – researching an issue, brainstorming on a specific problem, or gathering feedback on an issue from their team or department – so people arrive with ideas. Discussions can get off the ground quickly.

Bring a guest

Let each person bring a plus-one who might be outside the team but may have a fresh perspective on what you are discussing. It will help get information and opinions flowing around the company.

Good to great

As your meeting breaks up, ask everyone to give feedback. What did we do well in the meeting? Or what could have been better? This can be anonymous so people can say if their boss needed reining in, and will mean that you control the next meeting better.

Improve your skils

Find out more about CMI-accredited leadership and management courses available at Worcester College of Technology

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