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4 Reasons Your Meetings Suck
By John Steinmetz

Most people think a meeting is a bunch of people sitting around a conference room table talking. And that is a meeting – just not a good one.
People constantly express frustration with meetings, yet most people don’t do anything about it. It’s like they just think that’s the way it has to be. That it is what it is. But you can do something about it.

You can do it by not having meetings that suck. Meetings that suck usually have all four of these things in common:

  • People aren’t clear what the meeting is for, or what it is intended to accomplish
  • During the meeting, conversation is unguided, goes on too long, and wanders all over the place

  • After the meeting, no one is really sure what exactly happened

  • Action isn’t taken as a result of the meeting

More About the Four Reasons

Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

  1. How many times have you been invited to a meeting and all you know about it is the title of it. You don’t really know what the meeting is about. This happens with meetings you set-up too. People arrive, and when they find-out what the meeting really is about they aren’t happy – they wish they had known this before, as they would have invited others that would be more helpful, and/or they wouldn’t have attended at all. But they didn’t know that – so now they are thinking your meeting is a big waste of their time.
  2. At your meeting that sucks, you’ve got the long-winded guy that never stops talking – and he is sitting next to the woman that thinks this meeting is her chance to bring-up anything and everything that she wants to cover. No one is really leading the meeting, and so the conversation just wanders. Since no one is leading the session – people are thinking your meeting is a big waste of their time.

  3. Your meeting is over, and as people leave they are wondering, “Did we decide anything?” “Is anyone doing anything based on what we discussed?” They don’t know the answer to those questions – people are thinking your meeting was a big waste of their time.

  4. It is a week after your meeting, and no one has done anything as a result of the meeting – that is because no one knows they should. So nothing moves forward. Nothing changes. Nothing gets done. People are thinking your meeting was a big waste of time.

So let’s review…

The right people weren’t at your meeting, conversation at your meeting wasn’t helpful, no one knows what was decided at your meeting, and no action was taken after your meeting.

You know why?

Because your meeting sucked.

And even worse – people think you can’t lead.

The answer…

There is an easy fix to each of these four problems. In fact, if you fix these four problems, people will think you are amazing – they will like working with you, as they’ll feel that your meetings produce great results, and things really seem to move forward when you are in charge.

So here is what you do about each of the four reasons your meetings suck. It is the acronym ALAN, and it is:

  • A – Agenda: When you send your meeting invite, in addition to the title of the meeting, include a statement of the purpose of the meeting. Then prior to the meeting, send-out a detailed agenda (with times for each topic). If you know the agenda when you schedule the meeting, include that in the meeting invite – but it isn’t unusual that you schedule meetings far enough in advance that you don’t know your detailed agenda at the time that you schedule the meeting. Either way, an agenda must be sent prior to the meeting.

    Do these things, and you will have the right people at your meeting.

  • L – Lead: When the meeting starts, be clear that you are the leader of the meeting. Demonstrate this in several ways. First, call the meeting to order. Second, review the agenda with the team. Third, start the conversation on the first agenda topic. Fourth, when someone wanders off the agenda topics, steer them back. Fifth, when someone is long-winded, stop them, and stay on time (according to the times you put on the agenda for each topic). Sixth, end conversation as appropriate on each agenda item, and lead the team to start conversation on the next agenda item.

    Do these things, and the conversation at your meeting will be right on point.

  • A – Action Items: At the end of the meeting, review the meeting decisions and action items (all action items should have an owner and a due date) with the team. In the days/weeks after the meeting, follow-up with the people that have action items to ensure they complete their items.

    Do these things, and everyone will understand what is to happen next and will see that things are moving forward.

  • N – Notes: After the meeting, send-out detailed notes from the session. The notes can be taken by you or someone else in the meeting, but notes are critical to ensure everyone has the same understanding of what was discussed and decided. And the notes must be helpful – not cryptic notes that no one can understand.

    Do this, and everyone will be clear on what was decided, and those decisions and action items are now documented.

None of these things are rocket science. Easy to do, actually. Yet the bar is set so low for meetings, that just by doing these four things (ALAN), people will think you are doing a great job.

Oh, and one more thing – your meetings won’t suck.

John Steinmetz makes things better at the University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC) – he does this by helping customers identify and implement solutions to their problems. John is the Director of the KUMC Enterprise Project Management Office. Prior to joining KUMC, John designed and led EPMO teams for multiple other organizations. With an extensive background in management consulting and IT, John has wide-ranging experience in working with executives to solve complex business issues. John’s focus is to find actionable solutions and successfully implement those solutions across the enterprise. This is accomplished by finding real, sensible, and practical answers that others could not see. Often this is in the midst of a highly political cross-functional environment, where agreement and alignment of the key stakeholders is critical to success. You can read more from John on his blog.

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