How to Solve the #1 Problem with Meetings
Bosses need to run meetings because they need to exercise authority and control. That attitude hinders free, honest involvement by participants. Worse yet, controlling-bosses obstruct ownership. Others won’t own what you own.
The problem with meetings is bosses run them.
No one can effectively manage a meeting and participate at the same time. Transform meetings by training new employees to – facilitate – manage meeting. Facilitators don’t participate with content they manage the process.
Martin Murphy, author of, “No More Pointless Meetings said, “The boss or highest ranking person in the room should not run workflow management sessions.” Martin prefers calling meetings “workflow management sessions.”
Assign junior team members to run – facilitate – meetings. They don’t give input they manage the meeting, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.
Power and control:
Murphy’s suggestion freaks out leaders who need to sit at the head of the table exercising control. The whole dynamic stinks of inappropriate command and control leadership.
Sit at the foot of the table not the head.
Stop pretending you’re collaborating when you’re manipulating.
If you know the outcome of the meeting before the meeting, DON’T call a meeting. Meetings with pre-determined outcomes are manipulations. Have the integrity and courage to say, “This is what I want.” Say it and save everyone time.
Keep control if you must. If you need to set the agenda, do it. If not, work with the team to set agendas, for example.
If you’re genuinely interested in collaborative processes that produce collaborative results, stop running meetings. Train junior team members to facilitate meetings, instead. They manage processes while everyone else, including you, participates.
How would meetings change if bosses stopped running them?
What skills should meeting facilitators possess or develop?
Note: We had technical difficulties with yesterday’s call with Dr. Henry Cloud. My apologies for any inconvenience this caused you. We’re working to reschedule using another platform. Stay tuned and thank you for your patience.
Bravo! Well said. 🙂
Hi Dan, I better move ‘my’ chair! Letting go of the lead is hard indeed, the development of junior staff as facilitators is not entirely straightforward. I’m lucky to have a small team and make the most of having short meetings on very specific topic and informal updates through the week, I realize that is much harder to do in a larger organization. The irony of facilitation is you need to be strong and at the same time stay largely passive, a good CEOs PA is often a good choice in my experience. Cheers
Thank you Richard.
Thanks for the suggestion of a PA for running meetings. Some may find that useful.
I love how the dynamic changes when a junior member of the team starts facilitating… keeping people on the agreed upon agenda…summarizing…and then helping people find a collaborative decision. Oh, and don’t forget calling the team to assign deliverables with deadlines …etc
Perhaps it’s not moving the chair as much as putting someone else in it. 🙂
Another option that we have had success with is bringing in someone from the training side of HR. The good ones are professional facilitators, they know the company and at the same time they can be “neutral” when it comes to the result. Their goal is to assist participants to address items on the agenda in the timeframe set aside for the meeting. Good ones are also often excellent at coaxing participation and input from “silent observers” in meetings to ensure one sheds light on all sides of the discussion.
Thank you Paul.
Great add. You also made me think about someone from HR being the “professional” meeting facilitator.
You are also hinting at important facilitator duties like timelines and monitoring participation levels.
Once we get a glimpse of the role of facilitator I think the idea gets more comfortable.
If facilitators came to meeting with fixed agendas, timed discussions and followup accountability for projects this would get people back to work. The facilitator needs to be string enough to move the meeting in the right direction without manipulating the discussion. This means not glossing over things they don’t care about and dragging everyone through discussion about the things tyhey have a personal stake or interest in.
Presumably most of the work is done by the workers and not the leader. They should be the ones discussing the projects.
The main problem with most meetings is that they happen at all.
Thank you Martina.
Love your last line…sad but true, in too many situations.
Interesting post, Dan. I once had a boss who wrote the minutes to meetings before he held them. He was a great manipulator!
I think it depends somewhat on the topic for the meeting. E.g. whether they are called to provide information or updates on new company devleopments or strategies or whether they are for participants to discuss solutions and ways forward on things related to current plans and strategies.
I rarely hold meetings with my team. They have meetings and phone conferences a lot with each other. There is a lot of two way feedback between us and we discuss things regularly but we don’t often “have a meeting”.
I find staying out of meetings leads to increased creativity from the team (they’re trying to solve something rather than trying to please me). It also makes my day much more productive as I have time to focus on strategic assessment and reviews as well as communication and collaboration with other internal and external units. Hopefully this helps us continually adapt to ever-changing needs without having to make too many knee-jerk reactions to things we didn’t see coming because we were too busy in our own meetings…. 🙂
Thank you Paul.
The original version of this post began with … transform meetings by NOT attending..
Love that you don’t attend lots of meetings. In my opinion getting out of meetings my be the best things some leaders do. Of course you may need to train facilitators and be sure everyone is clear on mission, vision, and goals..
Great post Dan!!! Might be my favorite!
My answer about meetings or a couple:
Don’t go find a way OUT!
Have a kidney stone attack!
Have a baby! Tough one for the fellas as their reason! But you got to do what you got to do, say what you got to say.
Tell supervisor you have a meeting with God and world hunger will cease and all Gods children will exist supportively but it just happens to be the same time as our meeting!!!
We have a training coming up and so so looking forward to it !!! Can you tell?
Strongly concur Dan let aerating be a chance for the up and comers to teach the segments, not fight falling asleep.
Anyway Great post Dan! The fella in charge of the meeting might be wise if they understood
The meeting is about his most valuable asset, his people, not about them.
I remember my surprise when a VP at Apple said they had lots of meetings and he loved them. Meetings done well bring vitality. Meetings done wrong, like so many, demotivate.
Hi Dan I completely agree it is just I can count on one hand how many well led meetings I have attended except… You know AA and NA meetings, they are most always most excellent
Plus Dan right now I don’t honestly have time to devote to that. I am so busy repeating what is working instead taking that time to listen to someone tell me what get think will work kinda seems silly.
Just the way I feel I am exhausted but in a good way.
Cya. SP. let the people teach the topics how hard is that to figure out? Let them suggest the topics! They are the ones doing the stuff!!!
Great post, superb concept and excellent suggestions. I really appreciate the issues you bring into discussion. Predetermined and predefined outcomes are not part of meeting, it is only formality for follow trends. I have seen that in meetings different group emerge. Some people discuss something, some people look at ipad, some people read message and some people just passively listen and complete the formality of attending meetings.Such practices are very common. I think leadership incapability to stop such practices or tend is the key issue.Leaders fear of consequences and that is why they just try to carry forward trend. They do not want to displease their superiors. And this attitude makes boss to exercise control over meetings. I agree with you that leaders need to be honest, courageous to see the relevance of meeting and the way it is conducted. In my previous institute, I experience the same thing. Repeated and regular meetings had same monotonous conversations. One day I expressed my feelings to the director. I suggested that conducting meeting does not provide any direction or result. It would be better if you circulate agendas with suggestion prior to conducting meeting, it would be helpful. I also suggested that you should make it compulsory for each one to contribute something with the agendas. And this was implemented through sending mails to employees. Since then meeting was better than before. People used to contribute and share their feelings. Unlike before, they started enjoying meetings. Though that is not enough, but at least better than before.
Leaders should make a powerful team that is based on authenticity, integrity and positive intention. Leadership intention is the major factor that affect meetings.
Thank you Ajay.
More of us should take the bull by the horns and work to make meetings better. Congrats and thanks for the story.
Thanks Dan, nice post on a very important issue which is really about how best to engage for productive collaboration. Meetings are one way to do this, but must be put into the context of a larger shared goal or intent of the group. Some bosses sometimes think they have the main things figured out, so for them the meeting really is just a manipulation. Others are not skilled at asking questions or getting creative output from their team.
One thing I would add that may be hinted by some of the other comments is that not all meetings are the same. They differ based on who’s there, what the purpose is (inform, create, monitor etc), and the state of the relationships at the time.
Also I’m very much in favor of facilitation as this brings discipline. If they are from outside the company, even better.
Thank you Henry.
Not distinguishing between meeting types is another problem with meetings.
I suggest information meetings be minimized. They are usually the most boring. That excludes information meetings that involve discussions. Perhaps all one-way meetings could be handled with email.
This may be riding the fence, and it may be the best of both worlds, but I actually do both. I have a meeting where I lay out the agenda for the week. Later that week, the supervisors and managers run the meeting and present/discuss performance from the previous week.
I want to empower them and help them take the next step in their career and in leadership.
I don’t believe they’ll get that if they are forced to just sit and listen. They need OWNERSHIP in what they’re doing.
Thank you Colby.
It looks like you handle the “what” is supposed to get done for the week and the other meetings focus more on “how” thing get done.
LOve your approach. Perhaps the first meeting of the week is “assignment meeting.” And their’s not much discussion about assignments.
It isn’t a meeting if the outcome is known- it’s an announcement- and that can be done via email without wasting productive time by calling people away from their work stations and grandstanding. The idea of calling a meeting is to seek input and move forward or at least to solicit questions and gain support. Stepping away takes a measure of courage and lack of egocentric need that is missing in many. In other words- Leadership. Thanks, Dan!
Thank you teacher.
I once had someone tell me they never went into a meeting that they didn’t already know the outcome. Guess what? I stopped going to their meetings!
Manipulative meetings may include the appearance that the group is deciding…really the leader is simply manipulating the process to get to their predetermined outcome.
There are all kinds of meetings and writing an email isn’t the best way to communicate. Some should be for information transfer or important info that directly affects people and where they might need to question the boss or discuss things. MORE meetings should have the outcome of involvement and engagement, which many contributors touch on here.
Spoken language allows for better understanding. For 20 years, I have occasionally popped this into a discussion of similar nature:
“I didn’t say she loved me.”
Got it? Well, maybe. If you will repeat this six times, emphasizing each of the six words differently, you will find that there are six completely different MEANINGS of that simple sentence.
“_I_ didn’t say she loved me” is a lot different than, “I didn’t say she loved ME.”
A long while ago, I got one of those “Certified Professional Facilitator” certification titles. I guess the key thing is to have some desired and definable outcome from the communication and to insure that your approach to that meeting was optimal from a cost / benefit / engagement viewpoint.
Meetings should be about engagement and involvement — something I write a lot about in my blogs — and not about power and authority. If people need to be informed to be persuaded, fine well and good. To use them as a blunt instrument, careful…
Thank you Scott.
I always enjoy reading your perspective. We definitely agree on involvement and engagement. Don’t have a meeting if those two factors aren’t important.
Dan, great addition to the discussion about more productive meetings (and companies). There may not be a bigger waste of productive time than meetings in US business today! And it doesn’t have to be that way.
I have a client who has trouble taking notes in meetings. Maybe if his role changed he could more easily capture the action items of importance. Umm.
Thank you Jim.
Great illustration. Think about the freedom the leader experiences when they don’t have to worry about the process of running the meeting.
I would love to know the cost of unproductive meetings. I’m with you, they must be amount the biggest,if not the biggest, waste of productive time.
Your “note” about the call yesterday, is a relief to me. I attempted to sign in and got a message that said you had locked the call. I looked at the clock on my computer and it was 10:03 PST. My first thought was, “Wow, when he says 10:00 start time, he MEANS 10:00 on the dot!” Then I chuckled when I remembered the topic of the call was “setting boundaries”.
Looking forward to the reschedule and you can bet I will sing in before the start time!
Nita in California
Too funny on the boundaries… Nope, I didn’t lock you out. I was locked out myself and didn’t hear the call. Fortunately, I saw the chat window and new Dr. Cloud was still talking.
Until the next call.
These are excellent thoughts! You can’t get input or hear challenges when you’re busy announcing agendas and setting schedules. The one thing I would disagree on is sitting at the “foot” of the table. I always like seeing the conference table in the Oval Office– the President sits on one of the sides. When a manager sits at the “foot” of the table, he flips the table without moving it! Where he sits, if it’s on an end, becomes the head of the table.
Thanks Justin. Nice call on the side vs. foot.
Dan, This struck a chord. I am now thinking about which team members could be facilitators and what training will I have to provide to make them excellent facilitators? Can I ask, do you have any suggestions for a basic skills set that a junior team member would need, and what sort of training you might envisage?
I think the most important change is the metal shift associated with the person running the meeting and the idea that “the boss” is one of the team not above the team. There’s real freedom there.
I found the book, “No More Pointless Meetings” very useful. I suggest you start there.
I also love the idea of making this type of a transition a team project. It reflects the value of the team and begins the processes by modeling collaboration.
I will buy the book. I have never had so much time wasted as by bosses strutting at meetings! Thank you,
I don’t think you’ll regret buying the book. Just the idea that bosses shouldn’t run meetings made it worthwhile to me.
I couldn’t agree with you more! I love the church we currently serve at here in GA. Our Lead Pastor contributes and occasionally brings a leadership training for the conclusion of the meeting. But the entire agenda is created and facilitated by our Church Administrator. He’s detail-oriented and knows how to keep a staff meeting flowing well.
Great post, Dan!
Just the headline alone was worth the click! I have been to far too many “meetings” that would have been the same if the leader of the meeting just sent us a memo stating what s/he wanted to do. And yet, I have also been guilty of this same behavior and not allowing others to facilitate and lead! Thanks for the reminder and the post!
How would meetings change if bosses stopped running them?
The amount of input would most likely double or triple especially if the input is taken seriously and used constructively. I can imagine that this could very threatening to leaders’ egos. Meetings with open participation and without a predetermined outcome can be a real source for creativity and lead to creative solutions.
What skills should meeting facilitators possess or develop?
Facilitator’s should be experts at getting participants to contribute.
Keep momentum moving in the right direction
Ties concepts together for participants
Summarize as a way to affirm participants efforts and achievements.
Hi Dan, as a young oilfield operator, I totally agree with the message on your post. I’m not really keen on breaking the tenacity of my superiors during meetings especially teleconferencing, but I’d like to stick
my hand up if asked to chair a meeting.
Thanks a lot.
Thanks for the referral, Dan. It seems that while everyone is dissatisfied with the conventional meeting model, efforts to do something about it are scarce. I’ve been teaching this alternative meeting protocol for several years to companies and organizations of every type and size with outstanding results. Any suggestions on how to motivate more managers to step-up to the plate and be part of the solution?
Martin Murphy, author, No More Pointless Meetings. (Publisher: American Management Association)
If a boss has to call a meeting then chances are the meeting is a waste – just a chance for them to get on their high-horse and feel important, instead of just emailing out the communication.
If a team of individuals calls the meeting, chances are real work will happen – collaboration, decision making, and genuine discussion.