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Take Back Your Meetings!

Too many. Poorly run. Waste of time. Unproductive meetings have become the status quo for many of us — along with complaining about them.

Meetings are too important to be so bad, according to Paul Axtell, author of the new book Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations.

“We have such deep resignation about meetings that we don’t even think to ask if they could be different,” Axtell says.

Axtell argues that by having such low expectations and poor experiences with meetings, we are missing out on powerful opportunities to get work done, engage others, and develop crucial skills.

Axtell’s book is loaded with suggestions for taking back your meetings — and about the communication and leadership skills that surround and fuel the quality of those sessions. If you’re looking for a place to start, Axtell suggests tracking and measuring what happens in your meetings, such as:

  • The moment a conversation changes or goes off track.

  • Who interrupts whom and what happens to the conversation.

  • Who is not yet in the conversation but might appreciate being invited in.

  • When a conversation ends without a specific commitment or clarity on next steps and timeframe.

Look for and notice just one of these things for 2 weeks. Then pick another to monitor for the next 2 weeks. Soon, you’ll see patterns in your behavior, and others’ behavior, too. Then you can decide what to do as a leader and a contributor to improve the quality of your meetings.

Meeting Organizers: Focus On These 3 Things

If you’ve called a meeting or you’re the team leader, conduct meetings in ways that hit 3 goals:

  • Productivity. Talk about the right things and make progress on every topic. If meetings aren’t focused, if you don’t get through your agenda, if you don’t have clear next steps, and if you don’t end on time, you’ve lost your opportunity. People in the room or on the call will discount the meeting and the person who called it.

  • Engagement. The quality of conversation matters. The time spent should leave people feeling included, engaged, and aligned. The key is to get broad and authentic participation. Ask questions and listen. Invite people to come into the conversation. Let them know they can always jump in or push back. And you’ve got to call on people — don’t assume everyone who has something of value to add will speak up.

  • Learning. The ability to lead and participate in meetings is a core competency. It needs constant attention. How are you improving your own skills and the skills of the group?

Meeting Attendees: Ask These 4 Questions

When you aren’t in charge of a meeting and it’s becoming a waste of time, you don’t have to suffer in silence.

“If you’re invited to a meeting, you have a right to ask for what you need to be effective in meetings,” Axtell insists.

Questions you can ask include:

  • What are you looking for as an outcome? Where would you like us to be at the end of this topic?

  • What are you looking for from us, as participants, during the meeting?

  • Can we review the commitments we’ve made before we wrap up? I want to be sure I’m clear on what you need and when you need it.

  • I’d love to hear what other people are taking away from this discussion. May we take a few minutes to do this before we change topics?

Meetings are high-leverage events for the organization, and they’re exposure moments for you. So take ownership, pay attention, and stop the tyranny of terrible meetings.

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