How many will you do this week? Meetings I mean. I was sitting in the rabbit hutch that passed for a senior manager's office and on the wall was a year planner.
It was very neat; pink squares, blue circles and yellow triangles. Each symbol represented a meeting, briefing, report back, pre-board review, conference or get together. Two hundred and ten working days in the year and I counted 110 days tied up in, mainly, internal meetings. Do the maths; 8 hours in a working day, 100 meeting free days, I make that 800 hours to do the day job. Is it any wonder evenings and weekends get used for report writing, reading and catching up on emails and all the other detritus.
Deduct time for the unexpected, the stuff that pops out of the broom-cupboard and suddenly you're looking at, maybe, 500 hours to be a leader, an inspiration, spend some time in uninterrupted thought, phone-calls, call backs and water-fountain moments. Time to be on the front-line, the only place worth being, becomes rare. This is a working year that stands priorities on its head.
If meetings are what you do, take them seriously. Make them fun, make them interesting and change the places they take place. "The meeting is over let's get back to work". Ever heard that? Meetings are work, let's get that straight. Here are five tips for more productive meetings:
1 Time is money
Calculate the cost of a meeting. Take a figure for the salaries, travel and all the rest, sum the collective hourly rate. You'll be astounded! Write it across a large sheet of paper and Blue-Tac it to the wall. Remind everyone; "This is what this meeting is costing, so make it pay!" Is the meeting necessary? Regular meetings and 'catch-ups' seldom are. Think about conference calls.
2 Get serious about agendas
Agendas are a road map. Plan them properly and stick to them. It is easy to wander off the topic. It depends on the quality of the chairmanship! Be prepared to say; '"I know that is interesting and is a topic we need to come back to. But, right now we have a lot to get through and we have to concentrate on this item." Beware of the agenda-benders! If the agenda is complicated and time is tight, try setting a time limit for each of the items; fifteen minutes for this and twenty minutes for that... then the items at the end of the agenda will receive a fair hearing.
3 Nothing happens after the meeting
Think of a meeting as producing a blue-print for what happens next. Be sure that action items are allocated and the people concerned know they are accountable and agree the task and the time scales. There is nothing worse than turning up at the next meeting to find things haven't been done. Don't be afraid to set interim benchmarks and call people to see how they are getting on.
4 Get all the information in place
Ensure all the numbers and reports are in place and sent out with the agenda. There is nothing worse than having to shelve decision because all the information is not in place. Set a cut-off date for all agenda documents. If they are not there, make it clear to the sponsors they are out of luck until the next meeting. They'll soon get the hang of it! Avoid 'tabling' information on the day of the meeting. It is not professional, not reasonable to ask people to sign up to a decision and gives wriggle room to opponents. You wouldn't dream of having a meeting without the chairs and table. Don't have a meeting without the data, information and supporting documents.
5 Meetings are real work
Make them feel like work, tell people you are looking for decisions, moving forward and changing things. Meetings are the places where the course of an organisation can be changed and the hopes and aspirations of staff and patients will be met or dashed.
If meetings are not like that - why have a meeting?
Adapted from 'Top Tips for Terribly Treacherous, Turbulent and Tricky Times. Managing for Survival', an eBook by Roy Lilley.