Every day, business people in the U.S. sit through 25 million meetings. If you're a CEO and reading this after 10:00 a.m., chances are good you've already been in at least one. And get this -- by the time you retire, you'll have spent on average about half of your working hours in meetings.
Over 65 percent of meetings are considered a waste of time by the people who run them. There are many, many reasons for this -- and just as many truly helpful tactics to employ that can make your meetings better.
All the best practices in the world don't change the fact that meetings are made of people. People like you and me who bring agendas, likes, dislikes, personalities, and often a sincere desire to be elsewhere into that conference room. This is the stuff workplace drama is made of, and simply plugging away in spite of it is a good way to keep the percentage of lousy meetings as high as it is.
Here's a technique I use with my clients and colleagues: Instead of trying to work around drama in your meetings, work with it. Think of yourself as a theater director, with everyone attending the meeting as the performers in a scene in a play.
Sound far-fetched? A decade or so ago it was unheard-of, but more recently the business world has begun to tap into the power of performing in the workplace, to help free people to be more creative in how they learn and interact.
Let me help you set the stage. Pick a meeting that you run, and let your team know that rather than just have the meeting, you're going to perform the meeting. Take it slow at first, with a short "scene" -- 15 minutes -- in which half the team gives an improvised performance of the meeting and half is the "audience." Then have the audience switch with the performers and improvise their own version of the meeting scene.
While these performances are going on, you have a new role -- you're the director, running these meetings like a rehearsal for a play. And because this is a performance, everyone in the room is a "character" whose performance you are directing. Rather than being annoyed, confused or frustrated, you, as the director, can call "cut!" and "take two," and help people try different choices in their actions, dialogue, and emotions.
Once the team has the hang of performing a meeting, shake it up a bit. Direct people to play characters that others typically play.
Maybe Mr. "makes-every-point-three-times" performs as Ms. "there's-no-such-thing-as-a-good-idea," or Ms. "leave-no-technical-stone-unturned" impersonates Mr. "what-will-HR-say-about-this." Or suggest they perform as someone who would be a welcome addition to the mix -- like a person who always supports other people's ideas, or somebody who's genuinely curious and asks great questions.
Why go through all this (deliberate) drama?
The act of performing adds a layer of self-awareness to everything you do. You aren't just in a meeting -- you're part of creating that meeting. You're no longer only focused on the what (the business as usual). You have choices to make and creative responsibility for the how -- how you as a team are producing the meeting (including the dysfunction) together. Your interactions, intellectual or emotional responses, and questions will almost certainly change.
Viewing your meetings and conversations as performances can help you and your team break away from your usual, unacknowledged "characters" and "scripts." It helps turn the team into a performing ensemble, that can deliberately and creatively choose how it wants to be and what it wants to become.
The fact is, you can create new performances -- new versions of yourself -- any time you want, and on any stage you can find. Like your next meeting.