“If it weren’t for the meetings, this would be the perfect job.”
How many times have you felt this way about your weekly group status meeting? Unfortunately, business meetings are a fact of professional life and a critical component of running a successful business. But you hate it. It’s a boring, tedious, unfocused and lethargic hour or two that you will never get back. Right?
Why we hate business meetings
It seems most people dread business meetings in spite of them being a critical part of the company process. After all, business meetings are where most critical company decisions get made, the direction of the company is set and monitored, and where information regarding the business is disseminated to the team. If we feel business meetings are boring and tedious, how can we be making good decisions?
More importantly, why do we find business meetings boring and tedious in the first place? Only once we have a better understanding of why we hate business meetings can we hope to learn how to conduct a business meeting our employees won’t actually hate.
Business meetings often reflect the personality of the company
Many times, the overall personality of the company can closely mirror the personality of the typical business meeting. If the meeting is typically dominated by one or two loud arm-waving individuals, chances are good that the company is run the same way. If meetings are poorly attended, start late and have people wandering in after the meeting has started, this is probably how the company performs during the day. The effect these meetings can have on company performance and efficiency can be devastating. Lethargic meetings can lead to a lethargic company.
Business meetings often feel longer than they actually are
They say that time is relative. A week spent on a diet is much longer than a week spent on a cruise ship. Two hours in a boring business meeting is way longer than two hours spent watching a movie. How can this be? A business meeting is where decisions are made that can affect your daily, weekly and future life and the success of the company. A business meeting should be interactive and the topics relevant to us personally. A movie, on the other hand, is very passive. You get to just sit there. You can’t interact with the actors in any way, you can’t affect the outcome of the movie at all and in most cases the actual movie has absolutely nothing to do with us personally. How it ends will have no effect on our lives. Yet, we would rather be there than in a business meeting.
Most business meetings are boring and unengaging
Why do business meetings feel so much longer than they actually are? Well, most business meetings are boring, most movies aren’t. Think about your typical movie. In the first 10 minutes or so something happens that grabs your attention and invests you in the movie in some way. In Jaws, a woman gets eaten by a shark while that scary music plays. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones is chased by a giant rock and in Saving Private Ryan the first 10 minutes are, well, intense. So, what happens in the first 10 minutes of your typical business meeting? The agenda is passed out while people wander in, there is some small talk then the leader starts taking about budgets. Again. You have heard it all before, it doesn’t really interest you and someone will probably publish the minutes of the meeting, which you won’t read. And the clock ticks away the time just like that 7th grade history class you hated.
Business meetings often avoid conflict
In your typical movie there is always some sort of conflict created. This is what makes the movie interesting. The conflict may be between two people, like Rocky Balboa fighting Apollo Creed in Rocky II, or it may be man against nature, like Chief Martin Brody fighting a massive shark in Jaws. There is some conflict set up that really needs to get resolved, and the pursuit of that resolution is what keeps you engaged in the movie. If you think about your favorite movies, every one of them does this. It grabs your attention right away and keeps it during the entire two hours or so. In your typical meeting, none of this happens in spite of the fact that the meeting has way more direct impact on you than a movie and you get to participate and affect the outcome if you so choose. While there is no way to make a meeting as engaging as a movie, there is certainly room to improve.
How to conduct a business meeting that’s actually engaging
Well, what if we ran our meetings like a director creates a movie? In the first 10 minutes our attention is grabbed because the purpose and intent of the meeting is revealed. Over the next hour or two conflict is created as the team wrestles with the business topic or topics, arguments ensue, passions flair, arms get waved and everyone participates. Before you know it, the time has passed, and decisions have been made. Everyone leaves the meeting excited and engaged. Wouldn’t that be fun and far more interesting than the current business meetings you attend?
So, if we want to know how to conduct a business meeting that keeps your team’s attention, let’s first think about what prevents this and what we can change to make it happen. In the first 10 minutes of our current business meeting format, the dreaded agenda is passed around. This agenda is most likely created by the team leader and, while they may have asked for input during the week, most likely nobody gave any so the agenda probably doesn’t change much week to week or has stuff on it you could care less about.
Breaking the status quo
Most companies conduct a business meeting as follows: First a status report from marketing, then a status report from sales, then a status report from the rest of the departments.
During these status reports there is very little engagement from the rest of the team other than a question or two. In fact, if there is any disagreement during a discussion it will probably get tamped down by the leader before it gets out of hand and the topic becomes tabled for later. What might have been an interesting conversation is stifled so nobody gets uncomfortable. It’s boring. If we want to learn how to conduct a business meeting that keeps employees interested, we tend to break the status quo and create a new format that fosters engagement.
Setting the business meeting agenda
Eliminating the “pre-set” meeting agenda: the lightning round
What if there was no agenda? What if the meeting started without a list of stuff to slog through? What if the first 10 minutes of the meeting were spent setting the agenda for the rest of the meeting? This can be done with something we might call the lightning round.
In this first round, each team member in the meeting has one minute to state what they are working on this week, what’s important and what they are wrestling with. (One minute is actually a long time, try staring at the clock for exactly one minute.) During this first 10 minutes or so, everyone is writing down the things they want to hear more about or have something to say about. Maybe it’s the advertising strategy Bob is working on. Maybe it’s a new feature set for the product Sally is trying to nail down. Maybe someone just has questions about something that affects their department. Nothing is debated in this first lightning round, no questions are asked, just written down.