The longer the meeting, the less is accomplished.   – Tim Cook

The Idea: As the world turned off their televisions this week following President Trump’s address from the Oval Office, writer Adam Sneed described it via tweet as “the national political equivalent of a meeting that could’ve been an email.” Truth be told, most meetings underdeliver, draining emotions and stifling inspiration. Almost three quarters of leaders believe meetings can be unproductive, derailing, frustrating, and boring to higher performers. Why are so many meetings counter-productive and what qualities and expectations could energize them?

I recently sat through a meeting that literally put me in a trance. The objective was unclear, poorly facilitated and packed with too much information. Everyone felt overwhelmed and there was no cohesive vision from the leader. Poorly led meetings are occurring at epidemic levels. Consider this:

  • Only 37% of U.S. meetings use agendas
  • Nearly 90% of people daydream in meetings and are checked out
  • Over 70% of people work on other things during meetings (remember high school study hall?)

“Organizations are moving faster and faster these days and few managers have time to think through their meetings in advance,” says Roger Schwarz, an organizational psychologist and author of Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams. Often, the biggest personalities monopolize conversations, hijacking broader discussions and rambling to disguise the fact that they are unprepared. Schwartz reminds us: “You’re there to be a steward of all the ideas in the room.” You want “participants to see the team meeting as a puzzle – their role is to get the pieces out on the table and figure out how they fit together.” Ideally, these conversations harness the wisdom of the room, focusing on value-communication and strategy-prioritization. Meetings are opportunities to convey how a culture can operate through an agenda, not just what the agenda is.

What are the secrets of creating a winning meeting?

  1. Research shows that we have an attention span of 10-18 minutes per topic, or the length of a good TED Talk. Conduct dramatically shorter 15- or 30-minute stand-up meetings as an experiment. Research shows this to lead to higher retention levels.
  2. All meetings should start with the leader answering the question, “why are we here and what needs to be solved?” At the beginning of each meeting, the leader must state if they are looking for additional input and validation or if they are sharing a topic that is already finalized.
  3. Most meetings are comprised of too many topics and not enough emphasis on the application and pitfalls of the idea in question. The best meetings have no more than three topics and every attendee walks away with crystal clear next steps. And if you don’t own a “next step,” you shouldn’t have been at the meeting.

If you lost half of your business to a competitor, which meetings would you eliminate and what would be your most important meeting priorities?

Your response to that question is a clue to what your future meetings should aspire to be. Directors lead the play from behind the curtains. If your teammates don’t walk out of a meeting inspired or clear on their purpose, the meeting missed the mark. Cut the solo acts and let the story unfold.

Meetings are a symptom of bad organization. The fewer meetings the better. – Peter Drucker