Five Ways to Sink a Meeting

By Susan Battley

We’ve all had to sit through meetings that could bore the bumps off a dill pickle.

More than 10 million meetings occur every day in America, and the average professional attends about 60 every month. Studies suggest that at least one-third of those meetings are unproductive. But they don’t have to be.

If you value your time and the time of the people who work for and with you, consider the following five meeting threats and take steps to avoid them:

1. “Potemkin” Tactics
General Potemkin, Catherine the Great’s military leader, erected phony villages to mislead an invading enemy.  Too often, meetings that purport to be substantive turn out to be just window dressing, or address issues not relevant to the people invited. Using “Potemkin” tactics is a sure way to lose the confidence and trust of attendees, who cotton on to the deception soon enough.

What You Can Do
Communicate the meeting’s agenda and goals completely and accurately ahead of time. This will help ensure that the right people attend the meeting, and come with reasonable expectations.

2. MIA Sessions
When people critical to advancing the meeting are “missing in action,” you have a MIA session. This can delay decisions and in many cases lead to the ultimate time-waster – scheduling a second meeting to tackle the same issues as the first.

What You Can Do
Identify everybody who needs to be present in order to accomplish the goals of the meeting. In many cases this may involve additional people beyond the regular cast of characters.  If you cannot accomplish the meeting goals because key players are unavailable, reschedule or cancel the meeting.

3. Hijackers
When one or more attendees seizes control of the agenda or monopolizes the group’s time, your meeting has been hijacked. Tactics can be overt or subtle, as in “This will only take a minute.”

What You Can Do
Stop the hijacking before it starts. Once a meeting is hijacked, it may just take the Green Berets to regain control. Instead, make agenda items and time limits clear from the start, then enforce these rules early and often.  What if the top gun is responsible for the meeting deviation? Then you’ve been rerouted, not hijacked.

4. Techno-Fog
When meeting attendees are busy with mobile phones, PDAs, or laptops and give speakers only part of their attention, a cloud of techno-fog has rolled in. Holding productive meetings in this kind of climate is difficult because interruptions and multitasking compromise memory, information processing and decision making. It’s also rude.

What You Can Do
Clear the fog by laying down the law. Whenever possible, adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward electronic devices. This will increase the quality of attendees’ attention and can also lead to shorter meetings. Consider too that if you don’t need everyone’s full attention, why hold the meeting in the first place?

5. SOP Meetings
When meetings occur too frequently or always use the same format, they can become SOP, or Standard Operating Procedure. Meetings that in actuality are rituals – all form and little substance – add little or no value. Quite the contrary, they consume valuable and, in the case of time, nonrenewable resources.

What You Can Do
Perform a “meeting audit” of all regularly scheduled meetings. This audit will determine: Whether you are meeting too often, whether the format is productive, and whether the right people are attending.

To get the most out of meetings, you should be sure that the meeting is necessary, then structure the format, agenda, and attendee list to support the meeting’s goals.  Remember too that meeting norms, such as arriving on time, paying full attention, keeping discussion on target and on track, get established one way or another – either by conscious intent and influence or haphazardly.

Copyright © Susan Battley. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Susan Battley

An advisor to Fortune 100 executives and world-class institutions for more than twenty years, Dr. Susan Battley is an internationally recognized expert on CEO and leadership effectiveness. Her clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional service firms, and elite research institutions. She has worked with chief executives, university presidents, Nobel laureates, and prominent scientists, diplomats, and educators. A respected media source for analyzing leadership in the context of news-breaking events and key trends, Battley has been featured in outlets worldwide including CNN, CNBC, Fox, Bloomberg, and National Public Radio, and in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chief Executive, Business Week, United Press International, Harvard Management Update, Entrepreneur, Science, Leader to Leader, Investments, and Worth. She is the founder and CEO of Battley Performance Consulting, a leadership strategy and organization effectiveness consultancy.