6 ways to avoid meaningless meetings

You’ve undoubtedly sat in or, like me, perhaps even conducted, the most dreaded of all meetings: the meeting for the sake of a meeting. The one where you are the cause of everyone in attendance losing an hour of their life they will never get back.

Attending meaningless meetings can result in no work getting done and can cause “meetingitis.” What kind of dreadful leader has a meeting just for the sake of having a meeting?

Fine, fine. It was me! I’ve done that and I’m not proud. Of course I had countless meetings that were productive and resulted in tangible outcomes. But I was also guilty of hosting meetings because I was expected to, by regulation or because a recurring calendar said I was supposed to meet that day. I’m a lot more knowledgeable these days and want to share with you what I’ve learned about curing meetingitis.

I know you devote hours each week in meetings receiving updates about staff members, sharing information about residents and brainstorming ideas. When I was an administrator there were many days I bounced from meeting to meeting and didn’t begin my non-meeting work until 4 p.m. Many of those meetings were essential. Some were not.

Often when I’m facilitating an organizational assessment I get a chance to sit in on a team meeting or two. I’ve seen some really great practices you can adapt to your needs, and also some meeting traps that I’ve been guilty of falling into as a leader.

Here are six ways to run an effective meeting that will help not only you but your entire team to be more creative and more productive:

Have a specific and stated purpose

Be specific. State the clearly defined need for the meeting and make sure all the attendees know the reason. Be clear about the desired outcome, too. Do you want to make a decision, Generate ideas, or Communicate plans? Too often, we meet because we are supposed to meet. For example, quality meetings shouldn’t just be about reading a bunch of statistics, they should help to improve quality at the organization! It seems simple, but too often those meetings don’t go beyond sharing pages of numbers. before you start a meeting, make sure you can finish this sentence: At the end of this meeting, the group will…

Consider the reason for each attendee

Focusing on the purpose of the meeting will help you determine who needs to be there for it to be successful. Unless it’s a large gathering of team members to talk openly, keep the attendees to a minimum. Depending on the point of the meeting, you might be better off with some non-supervisory staff attending than a room full of department heads. They will share a different perspective and undoubtedly be more engaged in their work when their feedback is welcomed. This is especially true for meetings about topics that directly impact staff members. While they may not need to be involved in a meeting about financing an addition to the building, direct care staff absolutely should be active participants in a meeting about restructuring how food is served in the dining room.

Start with a positive tone

Way too often I see meetings start off with a negative, frequently it’s a cutting joke or a statement delivered in a sarcastic manner. Neither are conducive to creating an environment of creativity and consensus. Keep in mind the people sitting around the table will mirror your mood and tone so be upbeat and engaged. Start with a positive story or an encouraging outcome the organization has achieved, such as lowering turnover. Alternatively, ask everyone to answer an optimistic question such as, “What is one thing you are looking forward to this week?” Asking attendees to provide a brief, one-sentence answer to a question such as this makes people more likely to speak up and focuses them on the positive.

Share what happens

You may be sick of all the meetings and the subsequent information overload, but meanwhile your team members are craving more information. When we conduct focus group for communities one of the comments we frequently hear from non-supervisory staff is, “I wish I knew what happened in that secret meeting they have every morning.” A quick highlight of what meaningful information was discussed can help to provide some much needed communication to team members and connect them to the organization’s mission. After all, they are the ones that are most likely carrying out that mission and representing the organization to customers in every interaction. Who is moving in or out? What’s happening this week that might impact others? One best practice is to have one person jot down quick bullets that get posted right after the meeting in a high-traffic employee area, such as the breakroom or time clock station, or are used for talking points with team members during department or unit meetings.

Develop concrete action items that support the big picture

Ever attend a meeting where you leave and think, “Did we accomplish anything?” Banish that feeling by ensuring that there is agreement on what’s happening next and a list of follow-up tasks. Every action item that comes out of the meeting must have one responsible person. Others can help, but ultimately just one person is responsible to make sure the action item is completed. One person per assignment provides accountability and empowers them to take ownership. Don’t forget to link these concrete tasks to the big picture. How will the work the team is about to embark on support the organization’s mission and goals? Don’t assume people know the greater meaning of the tasks they are fulfilling as a result of the meeting, help them connect the dots!

End on a positive note

Get people excited about following up on the items that came out of the meeting by ending on a high note! Psychologist Daniel Kahneman found in his research on the “peak-end rule” that how an experience ends is responsible for how we remember it. Restauranteur Danny Meyer calls it “writing a last great chapter,” so the story has a satisfying conclusion for both staff and customers. We always ask our clients, “What’s the most valuable piece of information you are taking away from this meeting?” The answers always differ, but the impact is the same. They leave excited to tackle the opportunities that they have uncovered!

Bonus tip: Suspend judgment and encourage idea sharing

Keep the ideas flowing and the focus on the positive by using the same technique that they do in improvisational comedy. Instead of replying to an idea with, “but” or “we can’t because…,” try using “yes, and….” Practicing this protocol makes us less married to our own idea that we instinctively defend, aloud or in our head, as the best idea. While it won’t work every time, try it and be amazed at how people respond when you give their ideas credence.

Meetings don’t have to be poorly run and unproductive. They can inspire employees to take action and stay engaged. Or, at the very least, get employees excited about not having to attend more meetings than necessary.

Denise Boudreau-Scott is Principal of Denise B. Scott, LLC, a consultancy that helps healthcare organizations improve the resident and staff experience. She is also a former nursing home and assisted living administrator. She can be reached at denise@denisebscott.com.

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