Meetings are necessary to accomplish your objectives. But they are one of the largest time wasters on the planet.
Yet, participating in meetings is critical to your professional brand, visibility in the organization and networking. In order to navigate the cubicle maze of meeting management, I’ll offer five critical meeting participation points you need to check for each meeting.
Let’s face it, you’ll need to go to some meetings that you have no business attending or others that will bore you silly. For career management purposes, you’ll need to go to those. But you can get in far more “right” meetings for you if you follow the following principles.
The purpose of the meeting should be clear. There should be an agenda – and one that arrives with enough time for you to prepare for your part in the meeting, not sent out in e-mail two minutes before you walk into the conference room door.
There are those that won’t attend a meeting unless there is an agenda and purpose to the meeting, but some of that depends on your position and how much you can get away with. But calling the meeting host on the purpose and the agenda a day ahead of time will start to send a hint that if the meeting organizer wants real participation or, heaven forbid, decisions out of the meeting, having an agenda makes sense.
And let’s not forget the ongoing “status update” meeting – they need a purpose as well for each meeting. Otherwise, “I’m good on my deliverables” should be all that needs saying. Usually, however, there is something within the group that needs help during this rendition of the status meeting and that should become the purpose of the meeting.
If it is not obvious to you why you should be attending the meeting – as in, just listen to stay updated – you should seriously question whether you should even attend. If it is informational for you – i.e., a waste of your time – then ask to get the meeting minutes. They will publish meeting minutes, won’t they?
“At the end of this meeting, what will we have accomplished?” That is the question to ask two minutes into a meeting that doesn’t look like it is going anywhere. Even if you are required to attend a meeting without a purpose or agenda, asking this question at the beginning of the meeting will help get the meeting focused.
If it looks like there are five accomplishments to be made and 20-minutes into the hour (why are all meetings an hour?), it is perfectly acceptable to ask if the group will really accomplish all five things or should they just focus on the one they are working at the moment.
First things on the agenda are notorious for taking up the vast majority of time in a meeting.
If the accomplishments include deciding on a course of action, before moving on to the next subject, make sure there really is a course of action decided. If there is, you should be able to know who is accountable for getting the tasks done with the course of action decided. If no one is assigned work from the decision, not much will get done, will it?
It is perfectly acceptable to ask the meeting organizer if you will need to present anything at the meeting. In fact, you should. Too many times I’ve been blindsided in a meeting where a question is asked of the meeting organizer and the question gets turned over to me regardless of it being my area or not.
If you are asked to present at the meeting, ask how much time it should take (“oh, fifteen minutes”), prepare remarks for 1/3 of the time allotted (in this case, five minutes). The reason for this is discussion will chew up a lot of time – how many times have you been in a meeting where the first point brought up by the speaker is discussed fifteen minutes of the twenty allotted? Too often.
Plus, meetings are notorious for being poorly managed. If you are near the last to present in a meeting, you can almost count on having your time cut. So plan on it being cut up front and end effortlessly or give up your time to end the meeting early.
If you are asked for your input to the meeting, by all means, participate. Participate means: ask intelligent questions, ask for the decisions made, offer your insight, stay off your cell phone, and don’t look at your Blackberry. Meeting hosts, if they really want to get anything done, will appreciate your participation a great deal.
Get your Next Actions
Too often, what happens at the end of meetings is that the last 30-seconds are filled with summaries of the meeting – and no one assigned to do any of the work associated with the decisions made at the meeting.
If you are in an hour-long meeting, you should ask for a decision associated with what was hoped to be accomplished during the meeting. This should shift the focus from discussion to decision. Once a decision is made, the next step needs to be assigning people work.
If no work assignment is forthcoming after a decision, you can ask who will be doing the work associated with the decision. If you think that will give you the work, simply ask, “So just to be clear, I have no action items associated with this decision, correct?”
That assumed “no work” position will be good – and then everyone else will wonder if they got the work.
Even if you do, you can then clarify the deliverable because it is rarely the same as the decision. “The decision is to roll out this new product.” And for you that means…??? Make sure you get the deliverable associated with the work because too often everyone walks out of the meeting thinking something else was being done by someone else.
Using a combination of these approaches should:
- reduce the number of meetings you need to participate in, freeing up your time
- Clarify your role in the meeting so you can better prepare
- Force the meeting to an “accomplishment” mode instead of a “all talk, no action” mode
- Clarify the work you need to do as a result of the decisions in the meeting
Just because the world can’t figure out how to run a meeting doesn’t mean you can’t use Cubicle Warrior principles to get your needs met from meetings.