Krug: Your Meetings Don't Have to Totally Suck
Krug: Your Meetings Don't Have to Totally Suck

The reminder pops up first on your phone, and then a nanosecond later, in the middle of your computer screen in the form of an Outlook reminder.

“WEEKLY STAFF MEETING is starting in 10 minutes,” it reads.

Oh boy, you hardly can contain yourself. The fun is just a few clicks of the clock away.

The reminder pops up first on your phone, and then a nanosecond later, in the middle of your computer screen in the form of an Outlook reminder.

“WEEKLY STAFF MEETING is starting in 10 minutes,” it reads.

Oh boy, you hardly can contain yourself. The fun is just a few clicks of the clock away.

Outwardly, you are calm. But, inside, you are like the entire 53-man active roster of an NFL team in the runway only moments from opening kickoff. Emotions are running high, but you are under control. After a week of preparation, thoughtful planning and tweaking of your approach, you are ready to dominate this meeting. Move over, Ray Lewis, this guy’s gotta dance.

Of course, all of that is complete and utter bullshit. The number of people you know that get amped up for meetings is most effectively counted on the fingers of a clenched fist.

Meetings are loathed. They are not often looked upon as anything more than compulsory part of the business inside a business. Meetings suck the life out of people. They are viewed as mandatory attention-span vacuums. Meetings don’t make companies better, but somehow validate that they have a process.

Agendas, if your company protocols bother to include them, are vague. Many regularly scheduled and repeating weekly meetings possess all the originality and unexpectedness of an episode of “Friends.” (Oh, Ross, you unpredictable paleontologist. To have the ‘90s to do over.)

Too many agendas are a copy-cut-paste job from the previous 33 consecutive weeks, which delivers the kind of participation that one might expect from such an effort. And that would be zero effort. An original idea brought to the meeting? A rarity.

Meetings have devolved into an hour game of Whatcha Got Cooking In Your Department? Or, on rougher financial seas, Where The Hell’s the Revenue, Gang? And then there’s one of my all-time favorites: You Guys Are Awful, and I’d Replace You All If I Had the Time…But I Think You Can Rally If You Close the Gap on the Re-Forecasted Budget by Cutting 11 Percent Out of Your Departments By Thursday, End of Business.

Face it. Your meetings probably suck.

Sure, you could blame the leader who puts together the agenda. And you could blame your co-workers for spending more time engaged in their game of “Candy Crush” than the third-quarter trend PowerPoint slides during the meeting. Or the guy who shows up 7 minutes late for every meeting for myriad reasons that lack as much originality as the agenda.

But what about you? Whether you’re running the meeting or you’re a part of the team in the meeting, if you know it’s not working, have the courage to address it. If the meeting is not accomplishing anything, think about how much time and money your company is wasting on packing eight people with their meters all running in the same room in the name of accomplishing next to nothing.

Taking back a meeting that has gone off the rails isn't all that difficult, but it takes someone willing to make a stand. And, again, that need not begin with the meeting’s designated leader.

There is great value in getting together as a group, but not unless there is purpose. Without an agenda that dictates a direction and without a leader capable of establishing a pace that rewards preparation, meetings will continue to flounder.

Here are five easy steps to scrub the suck-a-tude right out of your meetings and give them a tad more purpose:

Co-create a thoughtful, collaborative and well-curated agenda

It’s perfectly fine for the boss or boss’ assistant to be the curator of the agenda. However, if everything comes down from on high in front of a room full of people, that’s not a meeting. No, that’s a lecture. And lectures resonate in today’s business world like zither music. Set a deadline for contributions to the cause and sculpt a meeting agenda that prioritizes the opportunities or challenges in the week ahead. Mix it up. Don’t fall into the trap of weekly updates from the silos. Some silos have nothing, while others are overflowing. Not all information is equal, so there should be no reason to democratize the speaking time. Oh, and if you are trying to keep a meeting to a set amount of time (a strong recommendation goes out for a half-hour limit to any meeting), call for a hard stop and time out individual blocks on the agenda. Keep it crisp, gang.

Designate a leader based on the agenda

Someone has to curate the agenda, but the senior-most person in the room need not lead every meeting. In fact, he or she should sit back and listen as often as they can and listen to the group. Elevate the leadership in the meeting by determining who has the most compelling information to share, and allow them to take the lead of the meeting. Everyone will get a turn – even the big boss. Challenge individuals in the group to step into the spotlight with the information that everyone needs to hear each week.

Make a call to action for preparation

The top contributor to meetings that suck is the lack of preparation that most meeting “participants” put in ahead of time. Brainstorming sessions aside, most meetings benefit significantly from a little forethought. Don’t try to pull something out of your back pocket. And don’t accept off-the-cuff solutions from people who haven’t considered the full ramifications of an initiative. Bring the heat. Bring some passion. Bring a new idea every so often that challenges the process. Danger lurks in meetings where extemporaneous solutions outnumber thoughtful responses.

Recommit to personal accountability

If your teammates are disengaged, call them out. They’re wasting time – yours, primarily. If they have something better to do between 9 and 10 a.m., suggest that they opt out and attend to it. The meeting is a covenant. The agreement is that everyone in the meeting is focusing on what is being discussed and prepared to shape ideas that will benefit business outcomes. If monitoring your phone a second-by-second basis, a killer sequence in “Words With Friends” or a last-minute adjustment to a fantasy baseball lineup trumps the future of the business, well, you probably don’t have the wherewithal to be in the meeting. Step out before you’re put out.

Maintain the momentum

The only thing better than a great agenda is a meaningful recap. Chart the decisions in the meeting though a rotating secretary. Define what occurred and the deliverables (with deadlines) that have come from the meeting. Hold yourself and your teammates accountable. Take some form of pleasure from checking off the list throughout the week. Challenge your teammates to keep a clean sheet of success as the weeks go by and you move through the initiatives on your plan.

OK, so look at my list as a push away from the shore. Now you steer the boat. Send me a message in a bottle on your tips and ideas for great meetings, and I’ll share them in a future column.

Stay classy.

Chris Krug is president of the progressive media communications firm No Limit Agency in Chicago. No Limit is a full-service agency whose practice focuses on strategy, brand management, creative campaigns and delivering unparalleled placement in the media. No Limit Agency works with some of the best-known brands in the United States, and that’s not a coincidence. Contact Krug by calling 312-526-3996 or via email at [email protected]