How to make meetings better
“That meeting was a colossal waste of time!”
We’ve all felt that way and complained about the occasional meeting, conference, or training session that was worthless. We probably went on and on about it to a significant other or to a peer at work, blowing off steam, and then dug in and went back to work to get some real work done, frustrated with the knowledge that we’d be working later as a result of wasting that time.
Is there an alternative? There is, but it is up to you to make it happen. How?
Consider making this your mantra: Make everything you touch a little better for your having been involved. In other words, don’t let that type of meeting happen—do something about it. That’s a tough challenge, seemingly impossible in some cases, but here are some ideas on how you may be able to accomplish this, and in the process, lower your frustration and improve any organization to which you belong.
Scenario 1: You’re suffering through a meeting that has no purpose.
Ask, “What is the goal of this meeting?” It can be a gentle reminder that the meeting may be off track. Pointing this out can help bring some leadership to the discussion.
Scenario 2: You’re invited to a future meeting that you think will be a waste of time.
Ask the person requesting the meeting: “As a result of gathering us together, what is your ideal outcome of this meeting?” This enables you to proactively work with that person to help guide the meeting and help him make it clear to participants ahead of time what is expected. If the meeting requester stumbles on that question and can’t clearly articulate an answer, you can be a sounding board for him/her. You might also be able to help that person focus if he/she has not thought the meeting through ahead of time. Sometimes people call a meeting to check it off the list or to please someone else—without thinking through what outcome is really desired.
Scenario 3: You’re at a conference.
If it’s really bad, leave. If it’s adequate but you’re bored, force yourself to list the top two or three things you can take away from the conference. If you can’t come up with anything and the format allows asking questions, ask ones that will help you accomplish your goal.
Scenario 4: You’re attending a training session.
If the real-world applicability of a training session is in doubt, ask the instructor for clarification. Clearly there are many different types of training situations, but don’t hesitate to ask questions that will help make the training relevant to you. You’re there for a reason; figure out what that reason is and make sure the training accomplishes it.
Quantify your time and the time of those around you. Use whatever figure is appropriate, but look at the time spent in terms of real money. For example, an engineer with average work experience of three years may average $75,000 in salary plus $15,000 in benefits annually. That’s $45/hour times the number of people you have in the meeting; for five people, that’s $225/hour that’s being wasted, not including travel if that was required.
Do your part—it’s up to you to make the situation better by being involved. Don’t wait for someone else to make it make sense; don’t passively let it happen and complain about it later. Practicing these tips will make you an invaluable member of any team, any time. It’s up to you!
John Suzukida was Trane’s senior VP of global marketing and strategy prior to founding Lanex Consulting in 2002, which focuses on energy efficiency, product-to-solutions transitions, and strategy. He has facilitated meetings for the West Coast Zero Net Energy Coordinating Council, Daikin, Danfoss, and the National Conference on Building Commissioning, and has written articles for industry publications. He is a presenter at the 2012 Career Smart Engineers Conference.