9 Dumb Ways to Ruin a Meeting

If you must call a meeting, make it count. Don't waste everyone's time with one of these mistakes.

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Meetings are incredibly expensive. The next time you’re in a meeting, mentally add up the hourly rates of everyone in the room.

Then factor in the opportunity cost for what every person could be achieving instead of sitting and listening to Hal from shipping describe the relative merits of single-wall and double-wall cartons.

Then factor in what you could be doing instead.

Makes you wonder why you ever have meetings, doesn’t it?

Still, sometimes you do need to meet–so when you do, don’t ruin the meeting by continuing to make any of these mistakes:

1. You meet at a neutral site.

Meetings aren’t about words; meetings are about action. Great meetings solve problems, set new courses, create new action plans. Great meetings result in something tangible.

So why would you ever want to meet in a conference room when no product, no service, no nothing is ever produced in a conference room?

Meet where the action is, at the site of the problem or opportunity. Don’t sit in a room and stare at each other when you can focus on the issue you’re trying to fix.

Get up, get out, get your hands dirty, and focus on the actual–not the intangible.

2. You’re a slave to clock conventions.

We all think in round numbers. We can’t help it. Our calendars are marked in 30- or 60-minute chunks. We’re programmed to expect things to start and end at certain times, say, 10:30 or 9 or 3:30–“round” numbers.

So the meeting that starts at 9 is usually scheduled until 9:30, even if you only really need 10 minutes to make a decision. It’s like the bigger-house syndrome: After you buy a bigger house, you somehow manage to fill it with furniture even if you don’t need any more furniture.

Plus, there’s the “just in case” factor: We’ll already have everyone together, so let’s schedule a little extra time, just in case. And what always happens? You fill the time.

Instead, decide ahead of time how long a meeting should last solely on the basis of what you need to accomplish–and nothing more. Then schedule the time accordingly. Tell everyone the meeting will end on time no matter what.

Then stick to it. It’ll be tough at first, but people will quickly adapt and be a lot more focused and productive.

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And consider starting a 12-minute meeting at, say, 9:18. Then it can still end on a round number, and the people who crave convention can feel like their world still makes some sense.

3. Your agenda includes information.

No agenda should include the words information, recap, review, or discussion.

Great meetings often have agendas that are no more than one sentence, like “Determine the product launch date” or “Select software developer for database redesign.”

Information? Share it before the meeting. If I need to make a decision during a meeting, shouldn’t I have the information I need to make that decision ahead of time? Send documents, reports, etc., to participants in advance.

Holding a meeting to share information is unproductive and wastes everyone’s time–it’s lazy.

4. You allow people to “think out loud.”

If anyone in a meeting says, “I’m just thinking out loud…” cut them off. Immediately.

Why? Their thoughts should already be together. They should show up with concrete ideas based on the information you provided ahead of time. Don’t let people muse aloud about the half-baked concepts they want to share just because they feel they have to participate or because they want to seem smart.

5. You’re penny polite and pound rude.

It happens all the time. A few people get to the meeting early, and one starts chatting with the person who will lead the meeting. The room fills and it’s time to start, but their conversation isn’t over, so the team leader keeps chatting for a few minutes so he won’t seem rude. (Or he’s in love with his own voice.)

And everyone else sits and waits and waits until they’re done.

Chat all you want beforehand, but when it’s time to start, start. Say, “We need to get started, so I’ll catch up with you later,” and start the meeting on time.

6. You don’t establish accountability.

Great meetings result in decisions, but a decision isn’t a decision if someone doesn’t carry it out. Say what. Say who. Say when.

Never let ownership be fuzzy or unclear. An action item without a clear owner is like an orphan–it’s someone else’s responsibility.

Which means it quickly becomes no one’s responsibility.

(LIST: The 10 Best (and Most Unusual) Employee Perks)

7. You publish a lengthy recap.

Meeting recaps should only include action items. State what was decided, what will be done, who is responsible for doing it, when it will be done, and nothing else.

Never include items like, “Discussed possibility of reorganizing departmental responsibilities.” If all you did was discuss reorganization, then 1) shame on you for not making a decision, and 2) including a “discussion” in a recap implies that group discussions that don’t result in decisions are worthwhile.

Don’t give general discussions credibility by including them in a meeting recap. People might start thinking general discussions have value.

Where meetings are concerned, they don’t.

8. You follow up as the group.

Assigning accountability means specific individuals are responsible, not the team as a whole.

So don’t meet with the entire team to check on progress. Don’t waste everyone else’s time. Meet with the people responsible. Follow up individually.

If you like, the people responsible can send progress emails to the rest of the group. But don’t get the group together just so everyone else can hear about what’s been done.

Once you’re off and running, the only time you need to meet again is when further decisions need to be made, or when you want to celebrate success and praise the people who deserve recognition.

9. You meet to improve team cohesion.

Team members do need to work well together. But they don’t need to hang out together or “bond” in order to work well together.

Great business relationships are created when people work together toward a common goal and are able to count on one another to do their part, meet commitments, get things done–in short, to produce tangible outcomes and achieve meaningful goals.

Otherwise, the relationship is more interpersonal than productive.

It’s your job to build a productive team. Let your employees establish interpersonal relationships on their own time.

Don’t worry. They will.

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business. @jeff_haden
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