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  • Tamar Balkin

Not another meeting.. I have no time for them !!!

Updated: Mar 9, 2020

"Tamar I don't have time to do any work, my life is one big meeting-a-thon" 

We have all had those weeks, where like my client, it seems that all we ever do is go to meetings and there is no time to do any work. The meetings seem to be pointless, they blur into each other, at best people zone out, at worst they fall asleep.

“Why cant you do your work while you are at work?  John Cleese’s wife "There isn’t time I have to go to meetings”John Cleese

(The clip is an old one but the  first 30 secs are a fabulous)


If you think back to the meetings you have been at over the past week chances are someone has done the following: 

  • Arrived late

  • Had a side conversation

  • Sent a few texts or emails

  • Snacked

  • Complained

  • Was unprepared

  • Rambled

  • Interrupted

  • Stared into space

  •  Left early

  • Kept quiet

  • Didn't offer to do anything

  • Never came

According to a recent study 90% of people daydream in meetings. If you are thinking this blog isn’t for me recent research has indicated that senior managers have blind spots in their ability to identify problems and make positive improvements to their meetings. These tips may seem a bit detailed but you would be surprised how many leaders forget the basics.

What can you do? 

A: Before the meeting: Prepare

1. Be very clear on the purpose:  It seems logical but rarely do we actually think about the main reason why we are having a meeting and what exactly we want to achieve.  We often don’t decide in advance if we want to: share information; gain information; gain commitment or a combination of all three. As I described in my  30 sec video blog last week, we tell our staff we are consulting but we are actually telling. 2. The participants have to match the purpose: If you want input and commitment, then the guest list needs to be small, in a large group “social loafing occurs” that is when we reduce our efforts in the presence of others. For proper discussions you need less than 8 people. For example, it may be useful to think about what perspectives are essential to comprehensively answer the question you are posing, and/or who is impacted by the information you are sharing. To avoid ‘group think’ it is often helpful to invite a 'random' from another part of the business who will broaden the perspective of the conversation.  3. Communicate the purpose through a compelling short agenda Try something different and make the agenda a series of questions. This also sets the tone for inclusion. B: During the meeting: Run it well

1. Keep it short and stick to the allocated time:

  • Start on time:  Even if people aren’t there you should begin to set the tone that time matters.

  • Get someone to be your time keeper and give a warning bell when there are 15 minutes to go.

  • Don’t be afraid to end early, if you had a question to answer and it been answered.

2. Get everyone’s attention: One way is to guide them through The Third space: The First Space is the moment after a meeting/ event ends. Use this time to reflect on what you have just accomplished and make a note of key learnings and the all important to do list.

The Second Space is the pause, the reset, the clearing the head. See my   resources page for some tips.

The Third Space is the preparation for where you will going next. ie who are you meeting, why are you meeting them, what do you want to achieve, what do you need to know. 3. Introduce the purpose, duration and process:

  • Re-state why everyone is meeting and in one sentence describe what you want to achieve. Click here for tips on a short pitch. 

  • Be explicit that the last 15 minutes will involve the allocation of actions/task to everyone.

4. Use creative facilitation techniques: 

  • To shake up the process make the meeting active: eg: Ask a question and get the group to write the answers on paper on the wall, and choose someone who is really passionate about the topic to summarise the ideas.

  • Form sub-groups of people who don’t normally work together to generate ideas.

  • Hold the meeting in a creative but relevant environment:  my client who works for a development company took her underperforming team to an unfinished development site to hold a meeting on the importance of collaboration.  They literately walked around the site and discussed how the different stages of the development process were impacted by effective broader business collaboration. 

A highly active meeting does not allow people to fall asleep, disappear into the furniture or engage in other activities.

5. Keep an eye on the non-verbals and call out lack of interest: A client of mine said to his team, “You all seem bored, but you know this is important, who has a suggestion as to how to keep you all focused and involved? ” Sometimes you need to be more subtle and tactful, the aim is not to embarrass or marginalise people. If you notice someone hasn’t said a word all meeting just politely ask their opinion. 

6. Set tasks for everyone: The group is together for a purpose, and therefore there will be something everyone needs to do afterwards, ensure that tangible actions are allocated with clear timeframes and accountability.  Make a date for a short follow up meeting to keep on track.

  • Get someone else to be responsible for documenting the allocation of tasks.

  • Set up accountability partners/processes to ensure things are actually done.

7. Leverage off the power of the group: You know your guests, so mix them up to encourage creativity and build new connections. 

8. Have a bit of fun. Even if you aren’t creative then allocate this bit to someone else but bring some joy into your meetings even when the topics are serious.  Click here for tips.

C: After the meeting: probably the most critical 

1. Get feedback formally: Ask the participants:What went well?What could be improved?What should we do differently? 2. Take time to personally reflect and observe:Were your questions answered?Was your purpose met?  ie: Are people more informed?  Did they change their behaviour? Are people  doing what they promised etc?

3. Analyse and act on the feedback:  Talk to your colleagues, mentor or coach about the feedback and decide what needs changing and what should stay the same. 

Remember interpersonal dynamics are complex, and people are creatures of habit and resist change so take it slowly and be patient.  ----------------------------------- References: Meetings, Bloody Meetings Ross, Chris. Professional Safety; Des Plaines Vol. 57, Iss. 7,  (Jul 2012): 28.

Perceived Meeting Effectiveness: The Role of Design Characteristics Leach, Desmond JRogelberg, Steven GWarr, Peter BBurnfield, Jennifer L.Journal of Business and Psychology; New York Vol. 24, Iss. 1,  (Mar 2009): 65-76. DOI:10.1007/s10869-009- The effects of stand-up and sit-down meeting formats on meeting outcomes Bluedorn, Allen CTurban, Daniel BLove, Mary Sue.Journal of Applied Psychology; Washington Vol. 84, Iss. 2,  (Apr 1999): 277-285.

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