How to Fix Your Unproductive, Under-attended, and Downright Boring Meetings

We all know that meetings are ubiquitous in the post-industrial economies of the developed world. Collaboration serves as a currency within modern workplaces. Thanks to modern technologies like email and teleconferencing, professionals have more access to one another. This access has reduced the friction of holding meetings. Without much friction, meetings begin to lack purpose and effectiveness is diminished. Many professionals will acknowledge that while all of this collaboration can be good, they are often unhappy with way time is spent.

It’s quite possible you are unhappy with how time in your organization is being spent. It’s quite possible that you are fed up with your meetings. I’ve certainly been in your shoes. Over the years, I’ve learned two truths about meetings:

  1. Some meetings are inevitably a waste of time that you can’t control.
  2. Some meetings you can control and use as a positive force for change in your organization just by the way you run them.

The second item is what I’d like to focus on.

Most people who are tired of having unproductive meetings expect their bosses to step in and fix them. This is unrealistic. Sure, many organizations have systems in place to weed out inefficiency. But by and large, the expectation is that if you have a problem with your meeting, you need to fix it yourself. As a result, most people continue on with their unproductive meetings.

Fortunately, you can be what I call a positive deviant. By changing the way you run your meetings, you can set a better example that can drive organizational improvement. I’ll tell you how but first you need to understand three things.

  • Disengaged attendees don’t know why they are there. Disengagement happens rapidly within members who don’t know their purposes for being there.
  • Ineffective meetings have no order in how time is spent. Simply put, have an agenda. A meeting agenda lays out the content and time allotment. It allows attendees to prepare and stay engaged. Can you image attending a football game that was played without timing quarters or halves? How would anyone know when it ends or if it was progressing?
  • Tedious meetings rarely deliver an outcome. Having a stated objective aligns all members of the meeting on a common target. It forces the discussion to center only on things that will get the group to their stated goal.

Now that we have that established those principles, I’d like to share a meeting framework that will help you drive organizational change. The quad chart framework is tool for meetings utilized by the military to maximize efficiency and efficacy.

The Quad Chart Framework

  1. Background Information
  2. Roster
  3. Inputs and Outputs
  4. Agenda

Background Information

Defines the purpose of the meeting, the location, date and time, duration, and cadence. This area essentially provides uniformity to standing meetings so that everyone involved stays clearly informed.

Roster

Lists the meeting leader/owner and the attendees. No one should be listed in this area who is not a stakeholder or is not expected to contribute.

Inputs and Outputs

Defines what work needs to be done prior to the meeting and who is responsible for it. It also defines what the desired outcome of the meeting will be. Effective meetings require adequate preparation from their attendees. This section makes that very clear.

Agenda

Lays out what will be addressed in the meeting and the corresponding times these items will be discussed. It’s nearly impossible to perfectly follow an agenda down to the minute. However, make it your goal to stick to it as closely as possible which will maximize your success.

You’ll find a simple graphic that lays out the quad chart below. Use this as a framework for your own meeting. The intent of the quad chart is to share it with everyone who attends. Don’t hesitate to put an actual quad chart together and share it in advance of any meeting you run.

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