Four tips to avoid meeting misery

“Meetings are a symptom of bad organization. The fewer meetings the better.” Peter Drucker

How many times in your life have you endured meetings that lacked preparation and focus? How many times have you wondered what you, and others, were even doing around the table? Have you ever felt as if energy is being sapped from you as you listen to some inane irrelevant point?

Can I suggest to you that boring, fruitless meetings are dehumanising?

Why is that so? Humans are creative creatures. Your time is valuable. If justice means giving someone his or her due, what does this mean when it comes to meetings? People are owed a clear agenda, respect for their time, and consideration of their contributions. 

Here are four tips for coordinating better meetings: (have a start and finish time) 

Have a Clear Agenda

Don’t have a meeting for the sake of having a meeting. Meetings take everyone away from their work. Yes it can be productive to convene people for everything from brainstorming to conflict resolution, but only when there is something concrete and practical on the table. Everyone begrudges meetings without a mission, since it’s an insult to the natural sense of purpose that most people bring to their daily work. 

Know why you are there

Everyone who is attending the meeting should be there for a reason — and should know why they are there. As such, it is reasonable to expect each person to prepare well in advance. Expecting a contribution (however brief) from every person affirms and validates not just their presence but the contribution they bring. Ensuring people know why they are attending aids preparation. I know that I am always more effective in a meeting when I am clear about the role I play. 

Be strict with time

Have a start and a finish time. Starting and ending on time first and foremost shows respect for the participants and the organisation by not being prepared to waste that limited resource. And don’t fall for the trap of thinking meetings should fill a standard block, such as one hour. If the meeting is done in 10 minutes … it’s done. If it is a long session, ensure you have breaks a maximum of 90 minutes apart — any longer and you are pushing people’s ability to remain present.

Be attentive to human needs

This can be easy to overlook when planning a meeting centred on business or a time-sensitive concern. Still, everyone attending a meeting appreciates having water available and, when appropriate, coffee and snacks. During meetings, many people will sneak glances at their smartphones and signal distraction in other ways. Even inviting everyone to stand up and stretch for a moment can be a good way to diffuse stress and rekindle engagement. 

Your tips:

What are some meeting mishaps that come to your mind? And, what are some other ways that leaders can prevent meetings from being a waste of time and ensure that they are productive and meaningful?

(PS: You will have spotted the (unintended) potential for confusion in the headline. Four tips to avoid meeting misery or four tips to avoid meeting misery. It's probably valid either way)