My company helps businesses design and run effective meetings. At the beginning of every year, we're flooded with requests. Our offices feel a bit like the local gym right now because apparently, getting flabby meetings into shape is a popular new year's resolution.
If you've been struggling with bloated, underperforming meetings and have vowed this year to whip them into shape once and for all, you have to start by rejecting the myths and the quick-fix hype.
Why? We've seen many leaders try to fix their awful meetings with simple, hard-line rules like declaring all meetings can only last 15 minutes. They believe they're getting tough and doing the right thing, but it doesn't work. After a brief interruption, the bad meetings just yo-yo back.
These simplistic ideas come from buying into common myths about meetings and then acting as if those myths were real. Here are three of the biggest myths that prevent leaders from successfully creating a healthy meeting culture.
Myth 1: Everyone hates meetings.
Reality: They don't.
This sentiment is common, but even when you set those who meet for a living aside (like sales), study after study shows that people often prefer meetings to other forms of communication. It makes sense. Just consider which you find more effective: meetings or email? If the topic is at all complex, people choose meetings every time.
So why does the myth that "everyone hates meetings" persist?
It reminds me of taxes. No one says they like taxes, but when you dig a bit deeper, most aren't saying that we should stop paying taxes and ditch public services. Folks find roads and schools and the other services our taxes support pretty handy. But we hate to see our money taken out of our control and spent in ways we find wasteful.
Like taxes, people claim to hate meetings because they don't like to see their time and energy taken out of our control and wasted in bad meetings.
People don't hate all meetings. They hate bad meetings that waste their time.
Myth 2: Good meetings are short, use an agenda, and result in decisions.
Reality: Good meetings can be short or long, might have an agenda, and can yield all kinds of useful results besides decisions.
None of these typical "best practices" applies to all meetings. Context matters.
Let's take a few common examples.
The daily standup meeting, where your team quickly goes around the group sharing their plans for the day, should be short. But there's no agenda for a stand-up. Instead, there's a ritual to it. Stand-ups don't always lead to decisions, either. They're held to make sure the whole team has the information they need in order to make good decisions throughout the day.
Contrast that with a board meeting. Board meetings require an agenda and should absolutely result in decisions. But should you keep your board meeting to 15 minutes or less? Of course not. When your board includes great people that can bring value to your business, you want as much of their time as possible.
Remember this example when you see a claim saying that a single, simple practice will "fix" all your meeting problems. It won't. For meetings, context is key.
Myth 3: Meetings are a chronic problem for every business.
Reality: People working in businesses that design their meetings don't complain about meetings.
Ineffective meetings are incredibly common - so common that you might work for years in many different companies before you find a team that meets well. Despite what you may have experienced, there are teams and even entire organizations that run great meetings.
How do they achieve this miracle? By establishing a sound communication architecture that defines the method and frequency of information flow between people, teams, and systems throughout the organization.
Then, as part of that architecture, they design the specific meetings they need to run for their unique business context. They look at how they meet with customers and how they meet with each other, designing the flow for each kind of conversation. That way, everyone knows when they'll meet and what they need to do to make those meetings productive.
If you've been struggling with ineffective meetings, please know that there's hope. Believe it or not, there are companies where most of the meetings run really well - but it wasn't quick fixes or hard-line rules that got them there.
In those teams, people leave meetings feeling like their time was well spent and that they've achieved a useful business result. That team should be yours. It can be when you reject the myths and get specific about designing your meetings.