Proclaiming that meetings are evil is common these days. I’m rather part of the people who proclaim that meetings are useful and precious but expensive. Meaningless and inefficient meetings are evil. There are plenty of advice around on how to run efficient meetings, like setting up agendas, protocols and decision report. After trying to bring these practices to various clients, I find this group approach too slow, it does not spread fast enough.
Why not starting by working on our own individual behavior ? More precisely : our will to be useful in meetings. Not having meetings useful for us, no, the other way around. As to support this statement you could for example
- decline the invitation if you don’t expect to be useful
- get out if you think you are not useful
- when in doubt, ask if you will be, otherwise leave
- leave in the middle of the meeting if need be
- ask to bring the items you’re useful for on top of the agenda
- delegate if you are not available
It doesn’t mean you will go to less meetings. You can go there differently, learn to improve your usefulness, even if your involvement to the subject is low. Like
- ask for a wrap up of the further discussion if you’ve lost the point, offer your wrap up if no one answers
- ask candid question
- ask quiet attenders for their opinion when a conversation gets stuck
- bring out new perspective through suggestion
- propose various way of deciding
- start making a drawing or give a pen to someone
- follow the time and make time announcement
- ask for the agenda and purpose of the meeting if unclear
- go write key points and decisions on a paperboard
- show a good mood and a comforting smile
You can also ask yourself if you are still useful if
- you will bring no difference in opinion, position, perspective, culture from the other attendees, at least regarding the agenda
- you just want to be kept informed
- you need to see someone you know will be there
- you will hide your disagreement
- you chit-chat and whisper with your neighbors
- you will check your emails
A set of tricky questions
- What if I’m not concerned at all ? Facilitators and role models are useful. Ask if one is needed. Otherwise decline.
- What if I just care and want to bring my support ? This is a wonderful motivation. Now show your support even more by trying to be useful.
- Who cares if I’m not useful ? Your silent presence distracts others from feeling committed to the usefulness of the meeting. By the way, don’t you have anything else to do ?
Now the last question will draw the conclusion. What about the others ? What can I do to have the others follow the same path ? I don’t want to be alone driving things forward.
Don’t distract yourself teaching others. Focus on yourself. Your own attention to be useful (or moving out of the way) will inspire others.