You’re Losing People with Boring Meetings

Most meetings are boring, so you would think the problem with meetings is how to get people to pay attention.

It isn’t.

The problem is how to get meetings to set direction. Every face to face interaction with anybody is an opportunity to direct their attention somewhere. We do that with our questions, our recognition, and most importantly: with our time. The primary place your values are on display is in your team meetings. They demonstrate what you care about and how you want to spend your time.

A few months ago I realized our meeting agendas had become a list of things people wanted (or needed) discuss. This had perpetuated a sort of laziness, allowing people to wait to act on or get an answer until we were all in the room. A few minutes for a handful of issues, and ninety minutes disappeared. Then, we would be tired and a bit disengaged and settle for details over debate. Weeks would go by without working through the most important issues.

Adapting our mission to new environments always reveals new issues.

If we aren’t talking about our priorities, then who is?
And if we aren’t talking about them together, we are doing it less efficiently.

Meeting agendas are not a list of “what do people want to talk about today?” The win of your meeting is certainly not if you filled the time, or to give equal time to everybody there. Your objective is to use the time you have to direct attention towards what matters most.

You do not do this by talking. You do this by listening. You do this by asking questions. Here are a few I’ve found helpful:

  • What is our goal by the end of this year? (vision)
  • What are the steps we need to have taken by the end of the quarter? (strategy)
  • Who is owning each step? (responsibility)
  • What problems are they encountering? (problem solving)

Vision, strategy, responsibility, problem solving. Review your end of year goals, broken down into manageable segments, and then identify what’s getting in the way. Work the problem together.

You show what you care about with your meeting agendas.
You show how you get there with the tone and posture of your meeting (meetings are a great place to practice your values).

Celebrate conflict. Pause and affirm when it’s going well. Especially via zoom! Narrate, interpret, affirm. It’s vulnerable to step out and disagree or ask a question. Thank them.

Here’s what you’ll have done: you will draw people’s attention what matters most because it’s what you are spending the most time on.

If your meetings are already full, try this:

  • Step one: Take everything that is one-way communication (updates, reports, headlines) and move them into emails, Slack, or 10-minute standing meetings.
  • Step two: Lead with questions.
  • Step three: Hold people accountable to the new direction. A little pressure will help them showing up wanting to talk about what you’re asking about.

The currency of your leadership is attention. Help direct people towards what matters most, and you’ll get their quicker than before (and your meetings will be more fun).

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear what you’re learning and what questions you are wrestling with about leading (and leading change). Tell me here!

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