Meetings are bad enough. Introduce anything that can derail meetings, and it can be torturous.
One researcher found only about 50% of the time spent in meetings is productive. Another researcher found meeting length and frequency has increased incredibly over the past half century. In the 1960s, top leaders spent about 10 hours a week in meetings. Now: We’re in them almost 23 hours a week!
Why so many and so long? Because a lot of meetings go off the track to Destination Unknown. And that can piss off attendees.
Derail meetings in person & online
So whether they walk out a door or turn off a Zoom camera, people go away frustrated and likely spread bad meeting karma around them, impacting morale and productivity.
But, imagine if you can reel in meeting distractions, keep everyone on track and get them out the door and productive: No one would complain they hate meetings, and you’d be The Meeting God or Goddess.
Let’s make it a reality.
Here are five top distractions that derail meetings and how to avoid each:
No. 1: The meeting itself
The number of meetings scheduled in the Teams app has increased 192% in the past three years, according to data collected by Microsoft. What’s more, employees say inefficient meetings is the absolute biggest time-waster and productivity-destroyer in their workday.
Specifically, what’s wrong with meetings? Employees say it’s difficult to:
- brainstorm in virtual meetings (58%)
- catch up if they joined late (57%)
- decipher the next steps at the end of a meeting (55%), and
- summarize what happened (56%).
Meeting attendees almost always walk away scratching their heads.
The cure: Assess the need for every, single meeting. If you can accomplish the goal with an email, scratch the meeting and let people work.
No. 2: Gravity issues
Gravity is a force of nature that keeps us grounded. It can do the same to a meeting — make it level to the floor and not move forward.
“These occur when your team discusses unsolvable issues — debating unsolvable issues at the team level instead of focusing on the issues at hand,” says Luis Velasquez in a post about his recent Harvard Business Review work.
Problem is, most meetings have a “solution” element. But they lack an “authority” element. Teams — or just one or two members — spend time talking about solutions they don’t have the authority to implement.
The cure: Before your group spends time focusing on solutions, do an authority analysis. Determine if your theoretical solution could be implemented without jumping through too many hoops.
No. 3: Assumption overload
You know what they say about assumptions — They make an ass of u & me. They’re also at the heart of derailed meetings.
“Team members jump to conclusions without proper context,” says Velasquez.
Excessive or unverified assumptions could be about a specific issue, background, expectations or even other team members. Some assumptions are necessary, but you can’t rely on them without validation to make decisions.
The cure: Just the facts, ma’am. As a leader or facilitator, keep an eye and ear out for too many unknowns filled in with assumptions. When you hear dozens of “ifs” and/or “maybe,” call the meeting. Determine who will dig up facts and certainties before you meet efficiently next time.
No. 4: Annoying negativity
Nearly every group and/or meeting has a Debbie or Dougie Downer. They point out negatives or potential fails, then pull others down the rabbit hole with them.
“Emotional reactions lead to generalizations and catastrophizing — predicting doom and gloom when a new change is introduced,” says Velasquez.
Truly, negative people and ideas often have a controlling power over positive people and change management.
The cure: Let people establish their camps. But don’t let them pitch tents in your meetings. Explain that you’ll discuss and vote on solutions in meetings when change is inevitable. They can voice opinions ahead of time in written communication — and you’ll address concerns that way.
No. 5. Squirrel chasing
Some people can’t stay focused and they “chase squirrels,” bringing up something that might be relevant to the team’s ongoing work, but unrelated to the meeting’s focus.
“Tangents are set, and your team follows, losing focus on the main objective,” says Velasquez. “For instance, a side conversation about lunch options derails the meeting agenda.”
The cure: Revisit or reframe the meeting objective. When you sense you’re about to derail, say, “Let’s revisit this meeting’s objective. As we agreed, it is …. Does this conversation move us closer to the goal?”
Getting GAAS out of meetings
Take a closer look at derailments 2-5 and you’ll see they’re GAAS:
- Gravity issue
- Assumption overload
- Annoying negativity, and
- Squirrel chasing.
That’s what Veleasquez’s calls GAAS behaviors. And he offers these additional tips to get them out of your meetings.
- Pick just one objective. It might be to make a decision, brainstorm, share sensitive or confidential information, or something else. Put it at the top of your agenda, plus supporting data, documents and expectations for the meeting result.
- Reframe the goal as a question. This is especially important if the objective is to find a solution. For instance, instead of calling a meeting to “Plan for Project D,” make it, “What contributions and goals must we create for Project D?”
- Limit the invitation list. Only invite people who have a direct impact on the meeting’s objective.