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7 Tips for Meetings That Don’t Suck

In his book, Tribal Leadership, Dave Logan suggests that every organization consists of “tribes” at different stages. At the lowest level is the tribe who thinks, “Life sucks.” From there it goes up to “My life sucks,” then “I’m great,” then “We’re great,” and finally to “Life’s great.”

(image: finding marbles)

Do Your Meetings Suck?

When it comes to your meetings, where are you and your tribe on this scale? If your answer is, “Meetings suck,” then sadly, you are not alone. What’s driving this negative meeting culture, and, how can we move to, “My meetings are great” or better still, “Our meetings are great.” (Note: “Life is great” may be beyond the scope of this post.)

The dilemma here lies in the fundamental fact that, as we scale our Agile adoptions, we have more meetings: whether ad-hoc, one-off, cross-functional, or on a regular cadence. And we have ever larger meetings. If we don’t address meeting dysfunctions, we have no chance of moving up to the stages with non-sucky meetings.

Top 10 Reasons Why Meetings Suck

Do your meetings suck? Why do you think that is?

I have the good fortune to talk with a lot of people about all sorts of meetings. And when it comes to the explanations I hear for why meetings suck, I think of a David Letterman-esque list. I’ll call it “Top 10 Reasons Why Meetings Suck”:

  1. No logistical preparation for the meeting (ensuring the right people are invited, the right room is set up, you have the right technology)
  2. Lack of clear purpose or agenda
  3. No actionable decisions or tracking of actions
  4. Discussions go down rat holes and never get back to the topic at hand
  5. Managers in a mode of telling versus engaging in the meeting
  6. No divergence of ideas
  7. Participants don’t feel heard, understood, or valued
  8. Bad behaviors dominate the meeting
  9. Lack of constructive conflict (it’s either destructive or avoided)
  10. No neutral facilitator present to address Numbers 2 through 10

Fix Your Meetings Right Now

It really is possible to have meetings that don’t suck. As you scale your meeting size and frequency, you absolutely can move beyond the suck threshold. Here are seven tips to get you going.

  1. Timebox all your meetings and stick to the timebox.
  2. Don’t attend a meeting unless it has a well-articulated purpose and agenda.
  3. Plan out the overall flow of your meeting well in advance to ensure you have the right timebox and the right attendees.
  4. For large meetings, make sure you’re capturing all voices in the room by using small group, individual, or anonymous feedback techniques.
  5. Engage brainstorming practices to solicit a breadth of ideas, and use grouping and prioritizing techniques to converge on sustainable decisions.
  6. For long meetings, check-in regularly with yourself and with participants: Do we need a coffee break? How’s our energy? Is one person doing all the talking?
  7. Retrospect at the end of your meetings so you can continually improve on how you lead them.

Start off 2015 with Less Suckiness and More Greatness

Want to take this on? You have the power to facilitate collaborative meetings. The New Year is a great time to get started.

Join me January 21-22 for my Leading Collaborative Meetings training in Boulder, Colorado. With practice and perseverance, you can move the “Meetings suck” dial to “Our meetings are great.” And maybe, just maybe, that will lead to a “Life’s great” moment for you.

Jean Tabaka


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