The Seven Deadly Sins Of Office Meetings

Meetings are, on the whole, pointless, dreadful experiences. Here's how to change all that.

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Meetings are, on the whole, pointless, dreadful experiences. Here's how to change all that.


The Seven Deadly Sins Of Office Meetings

Meetings are, on the whole, pointless, dreadful experiences. Here's how to change all that.

Share this article

Think back to your last truly dreadful office meeting. Just picture it: the laptop wouldn’t connect to the big screen, so everyone had to squint at a grainy three-slides-per-page printout.

Two people arrived late, but helpfully not together, so the presenter had to start from the beginning, twice. And at least half of the group didn’t really know why the meeting had been called in the first place – they just heard there were sandwiches.

The amount of time, productivity and sanity that’s lost every day thanks to pointless, poorly run meetings is truly staggering. It’s time we put the wow back into boardroom pow-wow. Here’s our guide to the seven deadly sins of office meetings, so you know what to watch out for and can take evasive action.

1.    Failure to prepare

The general tone of a meeting will be set in the first few minutes and nothing will look worse than not being ready. Forgetting to set up presenting equipment, or sending out an agenda prior to the meeting will spark a chain reaction of disorganisation, and your meeting is doomed before it’s even begun.

Make sure an agenda and all the relevant background information has been shared well in advance. Familiarise yourself with the equipment. Define the meeting objectives as clearly as possible at the start of the meeting. And stop people at the door if they’ve just come for a Club sandwich.

2.    Lopsided participation

Meeting room discussions are often one-sided. Different seniority of participants, their varying personalities and confidence levels, etc. – all contribute to meetings regularly being dominated by one or two voices.

Equal participation is pivotal to a healthy exchange of ideas, and it’s often useful to hear the voices that don’t normally get a chance to speak.

Make sure that everyone is given ample opportunity to express their ideas, and that decisions are made through careful discussion, considering all the suggestions in the room. Again, it’s the duty of the facilitator to make sure the same one or two people don’t dominate.

3.    Complex meeting-room tech

The tech that’s available in a meeting-room can make or break the presentation. Even if the equipment works fine, you need to know how to set it up and use it.

Watching a wrestling match between a disgruntled presenter and a clump of wires doesn’t usually get people in the mood for business. Nor does waiting five minutes for a flustered IT person to arrive to press the on button.

Simple, easy-to-use tech is the key to streamlined, successful meetings. You want technology solutions that require zero learning and minimal IT support, so employees of all levels and technical abilities can use it – without calling in the tech support cavalry.

4.    Lengthy meetings

Unless you are a Zen Monk, it is almost physically impossible to concentrate for the duration of a four-hour meeting.

Research suggests people can only concentrate fully for 15-20 minutes. Annoyingly, this is an impractically short time for most business meetings, and often it takes this long just to get the tech set up in a poorly-designed meeting room.

However, you should do everything you can to keep concentration levels up. It’s crucial to punctuate your meeting with breaks, and providing variation to the meeting by scheduling activities in smaller groups if feasible. Also consider having someone in charge of timekeeping to keep things moving.

5.    Non-collaborative structures

A meeting dynamic should be easy and relaxed, and if something stops you from collaborating smoothly with the other participants, the productivity and effectiveness of the meeting will be absolutely decimated.

When a meeting room is structured so that only one person can share content, then if anyone else has important content to share, it’s always a nightmare trying to make it available for everyone to see.

A meeting will run comfortably if people are able to share their screens or distribute content without any fuss: lose the 1990s cables and invest in a method of screen-sharing that won’t disrupt the meeting and destroy all productivity/focus.

6.    Going off-topic

Even the most well-prepared, clearly defined, technical seamless meetings can get wildly off-track. A badly timed question here, a pointless discussion there, and you’ve hit your allotted hour without getting past introductions.

Enter the meeting with a clear idea of your goals and priorities. Even more important, the facilitator or presenter needs to accept responsibility for keeping things moving in the right direction – forcefully if necessary! Having a list of meeting objectives on the big screen is useful, as is setting a clear timeframe for each agenda item to keep things moving.

7.    No plan of action

Meetings are best used to tie up loose ends and provide resolutions for problems. That means a clear set of actions. If you leave a meeting with no firm plan for follow-up, you can bet the very same meeting will be happening again when everyone’s forgotten what was agreed the first time.

Make sure that everyone leaves the meeting with a clear idea of the key actions, and exactly who is going to tackle each of them. Otherwise you may as well double up that Pret order – you’ll be back in that meeting room before the week is out.

Ultimately, meetings are all about getting things done: keep in mind the purpose of the meeting, and minimise the possibility of any impediments to acting in accordance with this purpose. So, prepare ahead of time, simplify your tech, and nail your post-meeting actions.

This way, your meetings (and thus your whole working environment) will become productive, efficient, and much more enjoyable.

Lieven Bertier is head of GTM Strategy & Services Meeting Experience at Barco.

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The Seven Deadly Sins Of Office Meetings

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