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"If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would 'meetings.' "
Many people feel the same way as humorist Dave Barry.
When was the last time someone complained about not enough meetings? Have you ever begged your boss to let a meeting run longer than intended?
The complaints heard most often about meetings are that they're often unnecessary, don't accomplish much and are too long.
Matt Eventoff, owner of Princeton Public Speaking, says that meetings are becoming less productive and more annoying with the availability of smartphones and other technology gadgets that participants are using while they meet.
"Text messages and emails are a constant distraction," he says. "People start reading and writing on their smartphones as they wait for their turn to speak if it ever comes."
A Clarizen survey finds that 57 percent of respondents admit to multi-tasking during meetings, and that could be because they envision the work piling up on their desks. Almost 1 in 5 workers in a Jive Software study say that meetings prevent them from getting work done.
To further add to the frustration for workers, the Clarizen survey finds that 59 percent say preparing for a status meeting often takes longer than the meeting itself.
Eventoff says that executives feel the pain, as well.
He says they tell him they often spend the majority of their workday in meetings with no break times to return phone calls or even go to the bathroom.
"When I've asked them when they actually do their work, they say they get it done at night," he says.
So what's the solution to making meetings more effective? Eventoff advises:
A call-to-action agenda • It's not enough to have a general agenda that gives the meeting time and who will attend.
It's critical that the purpose of the meeting be clearly stated and that you get participants thinking beforehand about what they need to do to be prepared.
A determination of what success will look like • Is a decision needed? Does a document need to be written?
"Even if you don't achieve every objective, have clear objectives laid out, in writing, and discuss where you are with each before the meeting ends," Eventoff says.
An assignment of responsibilities • Always state out loud during the meeting who will be responsible for things like follow-up or other specific actions.
"Articulate this out loud," Eventoff says. "Assumptions are a dangerous game."
A 45-minute limit • Meetings that are scheduled for an hour don't give participants the time to take care of other business before the next meeting and lead to people walking in late to the next session.
That only causes distraction and frustration then causes that meeting to run late. The problem will snowball as the day goes on, forcing people to work after hours to get their work done.
In addition, Parkinson's law, which states that work will expand to fill the time available for it's completion, will kick in if meetings are allowed to last for an entire hour. Limiting the time will help keep participants on topic and curtail the windbags.
A trust in the team • Scheduling too many meetings for constant status updates, brainstorming sessions and general business prevents employees from taking the initiative in their work.
Eventoff suggests cutting back to two formal meetings a week to see what happens.
"Meetings oftentimes remove personal accountability because you're not letting the employees make any decisions for themselves," he says.
Conciseness • Employees should be encouraged to keep their remarks short and to the point, and some companies have found asking everyone to stand during a session helps long-winded colleagues trim their comments as they begin to experience aching feet.
Anita Bruzzese can be reached c/o Gannett ContentOne, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, Va. 22107.