In the last blog post we explored the massive investment that meetings represent each and every day across the business world. We introduced some pretty alarming statistics about meetings. One of the statistics that stands out the most is meeting productivity. The research we found put meeting productivity at about 50%. If we stop and think about how many bad meetings we have all been a part of then this is probably not a very shocking statistic. The questions that come to mind for me are how did meetings get to be so bad and why is this apparent inefficient practice tolerated in so many organizations? Before we dive into diagnosing all of the potential problems that exist with meetings lets explore the anatomy of a bad meeting by way of an example of a typical meeting that maybe you have been a part of at one time or another. Perhaps if you are honest with yourself you have even been responsible for a meeting like this before. This is the meeting that just seemed to go wrong right from the start and regardless of what brought you to this place you find yourself square in the middle of a disorganized mess that at best will waste an hour of everyone’s time and at worst will damage morale and erode the credibility of the meeting leader.
Lets set the scene. Mr. Product Manager (Jim) decides that he needs to schedule a meeting with eight other people to make a key decision about one of the organizations new products. He is really busy with a few other deadlines so he quickly sends out a meeting invite that contains a brief statement of the meeting objective, the meeting location, and the date and time of the meeting.
To: John, Sally, Kim, Chris, Mark, Jenny, Matt, Peter
- Meeting Objective – Discuss product launch options
- Location – Conference Room A-1
- Date/Time – 03/24/2012 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Jim is feeling pretty good about the meeting at this point and he can check scheduling the meeting off of his list of things to do for that day. Jim is confident that during the meeting they will be able to discuss each of the options and come to a decision that will keep the new product on schedule for launch.
Jim arrives at work the on the morning of the scheduled 2:00 PM meeting and he quickly reviews his calendar to see what is on his schedule for the day. He notices that the 2:00 meeting is there and he remembers that they need to make a key decision pertaining to the launch of the new product. He is confident that he is prepared for the meeting and will be able to present the options to the group and help facilitate a great discussion about the pros and cons of each option. Jim moves on to checking email and making a few phone calls before he is scheduled to meet a few vendors for a lunch meeting across town. Jim gets back to the office around 1:30 PM and he settles back into this office and checks email again for about 15 minutes before deciding that he should head over to the conference room to be there a little before the meeting starts to greet people and review his notes once more. Jim arrives at the conference room a few minutes ahead of schedule only to discover that the room has been double booked. To make matters worse there is a meeting still in progress in the conference room and it doesn’t appear to be wrapping up on time. After about 5 minutes of staring at his watch and trying to figure out which group is going to concede the room first he finally decides that he has to do something to rescue the situation. He remembers that there is a great break room on the other side of the building that is quiet and would allow the meeting to go on as planned. Jim announces to the people assembled for the meeting that they are going to move to the break room on the other side of the building. As Jim turns to walk away he tells himself that this is just a minor bump in the road and he is not going to let it derail this important meeting. As he walks to the break room he realizes that he will need to use his cell phone as a speaker phone but other than that everything should be fine. Everyone follows Jim to the break room and he quickly dials into the conference bridge just 5 minutes late. Jim announces himself on the conference bridge and he hears crickets. There is nobody else on the call. Jim invited eight people to this meeting and four of them are with him in the break room and the other four were suppose to join via the conference bridge. Did all four of them forget about the meeting? Were they on the bridge waiting for five minutes and then decided to hang up because Jim was late joining? Jim quickly looks back at the email that he sent out and realizes that he transposed two of the numbers when he sent out the meeting invite. Luckily he is able to use his phone to shoot off a quick email to everyone with the correct conference bridge number. At this point Jim is really starting to feel flustered. As he sits stewing in frustration two of the people with him are checking email and the other two are deciding what snacks looks best in the break room vending machine. This meeting is certainly headed in the wrong direction he thinks to himself.
Five long minutes creep by and the the first of the four people join the correct conference bridge. It is now 15 minutes past the planned meeting start time. Jim thinks to himself, 15 minutes is not good but we will make up the time. Jim is starting to feel stressed and he can feel himself begin to sweat as he waits for the final three people to join the call. After 5 minutes one more person joins the call and Jim decides that he has to to get the meeting started. Feeling extremely frustrated Jim starts the meeting and briefly describes the objective of the meeting. Jim tells the group that we will be reviewing several options related to the launch of the new product and that they will need to make a decision about which option to choose during the next 40 minutes. Jim asks if there are any questions and he pauses for a moment. Nobody speaks up so Jim continues explaining all of the relevant details of the various choices that could be decided by the group and then opens up the floor for comments and discussion. Sally raises her hand and tells Jim that she wishes she would have been able to put some thought into these options before she came to the meeting. She states that she feels unprepared to really discuss the options in detail and make a recommendation. Mark seconds Sally’s concern. Jim acknowledges that it would have been a good idea to send out the options ahead of time but reassures them that they have 30 minutes left to debate the various options. Discussion continues and the group has a great exchange on the various pros and cons of the options and even identifies some issues and potential risks associated with each option. Jim tries his best to capture some notes about the discussion along with the risks and issues that have been identified. Jim looks down at his watch and realizes that it is 2:54 PM. He interrupts the discussion to announce that they have 6 minutes left before the meeting time is up. He asks the group if everyone is free to stay a little longer to finish up the discussion. Two people quickly speak up and say that they have a meeting immediately following this one and will not be able to continue. With 5 minutes left in the meeting Jim realizes they either have to make a decision about the options now or pick this discussion back up again at a later meeting. Jim asks the group if they feel that they are at a point where they can make a decision. Several of the meeting attendees voice concerns about needing more time and about needing input from two key members who did not show up for the meeting. Jim realizes that they are not going to able to reach a decision and announces to the group that he will schedule a follow up meeting to continue the discussion and make a final decision. He asks if there are any questions and hearing nothing he officially adjourns the meeting promptly at 3:00 PM.
As Jim walks back to his office he can’t help but feel a little defeated and frustrated. He needed to make that decision so that he could keep the launch of the product on schedule. He isn’t quite sure how he will recover from this and he is wondering why two people decided to not show up for this very important meeting. Back at his office Jim sits down and reviews the notes that he took during the meeting. Several of the notes are incomplete and he noted a few risks and issues that were brought up but he forgot to write down who brought them up or what impact they would have or how much of a problem they would cause for the product launch. This only adds to the frustration that Jim is feeling. How did this happen Jim wonders? I had a clear objective for the meeting, I invited the right people and I sent out the meeting invite way in advance of the meeting time.
Does this sound like a familiar scenario to you? Have you ever found yourself in Jim’s shoes. You had all the best intentions in the world and you felt you had prepared properly only to have the meeting end up in total disarray. In one of my favorite books, The E-Myth, Michael Gerber makes the point that it isn’t what we do in our businesses that is most important but rather it is how we do those things that is the most important aspect of our business. We must have a system or standard process for how we do each and every aspect of our business. This is especially true for meetings. If we don’t have a system in place to guide us then we will forget important steps and we will suffer the consequences much like Jim. In the next four part blog series we will review a 4 step business meeting system that you can begin implementing right away to make your meetings matter and deliver the results that you deserve.