It's Time To Rebel Against Unproductive Meetings
by Alf Nucifora
I've just endured a solid week of back-to-back meetings from the all-day marathons to the grab-a-sandwich quickies. On many an occasion I found myself undergoing the proverbial out-of-body experience, the surreal state where one floats above or to the side of the room and asks the question, "What am I doing here?"
It doesn't have to be that way. We have to force people…friends, peers, and fellow workers to appreciate the value of time. It demands discipline, constant reinforcement and in many cases downright chastisement and disapproval. For the frustrated and suffering who are ready to lay down the law, I give you, Alf's Meeting Code of Conduct, guaranteed to speed the discourse, improve the quality of decision-making and curb the meandering tendencies of the aimless and the unprepared. In the spirit of true disclosure, please note that most of the following advice surfaced from a musty file, lacking an author's name, yet as relevant today as the day it first went into the file.
1. Arrive and end on time. Clearly communicate the "start" and "end" times for the meeting, (and make sure the meeting ends at or before the allocated time). Embarrass the late arrival offenders in open court. Better still, fine them. A dollar for every minute late to meeting irrespective of the excuse. Repeat offenders do it because they know they can get away with it.
2. Always appoint a facilitator (on the spot, if necessary) to control the agenda and guide the proceedings. And make sure that the meeting always follows an agenda, preferably written and agreed to by all parties in attendance. It's also the facilitator's responsibility to insure that every discussion item closes with a "next steps" directive…what's the action item, who "owns" it and what's the due date for action/results?
3. No tangents please! Stick to the topic at hand. If you have other matters to raise, wait until the item under discussion has been fully discussed and resolved.
4. No gossip! Keep discussion focused on the issues over which the group has control. If it titillates, it's generally counter-productive.
5. One person speaks at a time. No side conversations please. It's thoughtless, rude and distracting to engage in parallel conversation. Always pay attention to the person who has the floor. Be respectful of others. Good listening is always the hallmark of a collegial environment and a productive session.
6. Speak up! Don't be a chair warmer. Everyone has the responsibility to contribute. Don't leech off the group's collective brain. Be frank, honest and candid where appropriate.
7. No whining. Unless it's a twelve-step program meeting, be positive in your comments. If there must be criticism, make it constructive. Avoid value judgments and always try to suggest alternatives.
8. Spare the oxygen. Don't dominate the conversation or try to impress. Speak freely, but remember that rationing comment can often establish expectation for what you're about to say next. As always, quality tends to be valued more than quantity.
9. After it's over, remember that the group speaks with one voice. Ideas belong to the group, not the individual. Leave united.
10. Time is money. As the meeting wanders into the no-man's-land of idle banter and non-productive speculation, calculate the number of wasted man-hours in the room and then multiply by direct labor cost plus overhead factor. It's scary when you convert wasted minutes to wasted dollars.