By Lisa GirardSkype meetings used to be a weekly ritual for InQuicker, a health-care IT company with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Vancouver, B.C. "It had always felt a bit contrived to meet weekly," says company co-founder and CEO, Michael Brody-Waite. "I think it hurt morale to place what is essentially a giant productivity speed bump in the middle of every work week. When we really thought about it, there weren't too many issues coming up in our weekly meetings that needed everyone's attention."
InQuicker finally changed the meeting schedule to once a month and began using Google Hangouts so that 10 people can share the screen in a less formal setting. That made everyone happier—and more productive.
InQuicker is not alone when it comes to dysfunctional meetings. For many businesses, routine meetings can lack focus and a clear agenda and end up wasting time and boring people.
"The last thing a meeting organizer wants is their attendees to be sitting in a conference room or on the phone wondering what the meeting is for, why they were asked to join, or what the output will be," says Kathryn Hammond, owner of BlueSpire Strategic Marketing, a Minneapolis-based marketing company. "If a meeting doesn't have a defined agenda and concrete next steps, I can almost guarantee you will see people playing with their phones or hear people typing in the background."
Here, seven deadly sins to watch for in business meetings -- and tips on how to redeem yourself.
1. Meetings that become useless rituals. Companies frequently meet simply because it's time for their weekly, monthly or annual sales meeting. "Meetings that are ritualistic instead of necessary are often boring, and attendees eventually flip an 'off switch' in their brains," says Joe Calloway, business strategy consultant and author of Becoming A Category of One (John Wiley, 2003).
Tip: First, reexamine your routine. "Do not have a meeting unless you can very specifically define why it's necessary and how it will advance the strategy of the organization," he says. Also, create a specific agenda and send it out early enough for people to prepare.
2. Meetings that are a one-way conversation. People often tune out monotone lecturers and mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations. "A one-way speech is generally one of the least effective ways of teaching, informing or motivating people to action," Calloway says.
Tip: Encourage your team to speak up, exchange ideas and comment on what they've heard. If you show PowerPoint slides, make them visually interesting and keep words and numbers to a minimum.
3. Meetings with lax leadership. In today's "virtual" conference rooms, time is often wasted waiting for people to join the call and then getting stragglers up to speed on what they missed. "This punishes the people who joined the meeting on time with the likelihood you'll run over, leaving employees stressed out playing catch-up on the rest of their day," says Gary Bradt, business strategy expert and author of The Ring in the Rubble (McGraw Hill, 2007).
Tip: Choose a leader who is organized and forceful, leaving latecomers to catch up on their own. "Use tact, of course – you don't have to be Attila the Hun – but if you're too nice, it allows too much nonsense to go on," Bradt says.
Stay tuned for more tips.