Three meetings, two conference calls and a Webex — and it’s only Monday. Sound familiar? You’re not the only one. According to a 2007 study conducted by Banyan Way, an executive coaching and development group, senior marketing executives claimed to spend about half of their normal working day, every day, in meetings.
This staggering statistic got me thinking. As a newly elected chair of the Board of Health in my town, I’m responsible for running bimonthly public meetings and attending those run by other public officials. What a difference compared to most corporate meetings I’ve attended!
Meetings led by the Board of Selectmen begin on time and quite officially — with a gavel drop and the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance. All Board of Health meetings follow an agenda sent directly to all participants at least 48 hours in advance. The agenda clearly outlines discussion topics and objectives and is used as the tool to guide the conversation. As the chair, my responsibility is to keep the discussion moving efficiently and facilitate interaction among the board and attendees to ensure all issues are covered. The goal of each meeting is to accomplish the objectives as stated on the agenda. And it works!
In contrast, many of the business meetings begin without a clear objective and end without a clear result. Even when an agenda is distributed, it is often written as more of a checklist of items to be covered with little mention of the desired outcomes or objectives. This leads to confusion among participants as to the need for the meeting, why they have been asked to attend and what it is that we are trying to accomplish. A perfect recipe for meeting mayhem!
It’s not only the how of meetings, but the who that can influence their value. In "The Consensus Building Handbook," contributing writer David Straus writes "[P]articipants are too often invited based on their position or title, rather than on whether they truly have an interest or a stake in the issues to be discussed." He recommends carefully considering including only those who are affected by or who can affect the desired outcomes.
Now I’m not suggesting we break out the gavels and pledge our allegiance to the flag at our next corporate meeting. But perhaps we can pledge to adopt some basic meeting best practices to make the most of our precious time and keep the work moving.
Download "The 7 Keys to Eliminating Wasteful Meetings" (DOC).
Jennifer A. Nichols is senior account supervisor at Seidler Bernstein whose prior experience includes healthcare communications at HealthGate Data Corp. and public health and social marketing consulting at Policy Studies Inc. of Cambridge, Mass. A licensed and registered dietitian, Jenn also worked at Mass. General Hospital as a clinical dietitian. These days she volunteers on the Board of Health for the town of Easton, Mass.