Seven critical hindrances to successful business meetings

Nicole Smartt is co-owner and vice president of Petaluma-based Star Staffing.

SMARTT PRINCIPLES: BUSINESS ACUMEN FOR GREAT RESULTS NICOLE SMARTT, SMARTT PRINCIPLES: BUSINESS ACUMEN FOR GREAT RESULTS BY NICOLE SMARTT

Some companies seem to have successful meetings the way they were intended: People collaborate, are able to develop group-generated solutions to problems and walk away feeling empowered, with a clear understanding of their next action steps.

Other times, meetings are mind-numbingly boring. Even if the information conveyed in the meeting is critical, it seems that the team leaves the meeting feeling relief, but only because the thing is over. Some team members might leave feeling as if they would have gotten more out of a single-sentence email, and they could have saved an hour.

The worst kind of meetings, though, may be the ones that shouldn’t have ever happened. These are the meetings where nothing gets done, and no value is added to any of the attendees. They leave the room feeling frustrated, unheard, uncared-for, and distinctly less motivated than before the meeting started.

As much as we may wish otherwise, meetings are still a necessity in the business world. So what can we do make our meetings actionable, informative, brief and empowering? We can stop doing these seven things — right now.

1. INTERRUPTIONS

Stop interrupting people. Right now. Interruption may seem like the only way to get your really important idea across without forgetting it or context being lost, but even if that’s true, don’t just speak over whoever is already talking.

Think about how many times you’ve been in a meeting, and someone was talking, and someone else just couldn’t resist interjecting. It is far more common than we give credit for, despite how uncivilized it seems when we’re away from the table.

Interruption has a host of negative outcomes. It disempowers the speaker and subtly damages whatever credence their idea may have had. Interruption often also makes the interrupter either say their piece more forcefully (hoping to get their point across), which can come off as dismissive or angry, or makes them rush, which very few people can do well, so that can discredit the interrupter’s comment. Worse, interruption is catching. If it’s part of your company culture, nip it now.

Instead of interrupting, encourage attendees to take notes, and pause between speakers to make space for comments, ideas or clarifying questions. This empowers each attendee equally, and makes space for quieter members who cannot or will not fight for the right to speak.

2. TARDINESS

Stop starting late. Remember that meetings are usually paid. The more people you have in the room, the more expensive it is for the company. So when that meeting “only lasts an hour” but there are five people in the room, it costs five times what you think it does on first blush. Start on time, save money, and bonus: it’s less irritating.

3. NO RESULTS

Don’t leave meetings without results. If you hold a meeting, and one of your goals is not to create action items, you’ve just sent the message that the meeting is a waste of time. This isn’t good for your team members, and it’s definitely not good for the bottom line.

4. NO AGENDA

While we’re on the subject, stop holding meetings without agendas. Agendas can be as simple and straightforward as can be, or you can get more complex with subcategories and action steps. The important part here is that every attendee knows what the meeting is about, has had time to think about the content of the meeting, and has ideally also spent some time thinking about questions they want to ask or input they have for each item.

Walking blind into meetings sets every attendee back: They don’t know what to expect, they haven’t been able to prepare effectively, and you may waste valuable meeting time getting everyone on the same page.

5. GRIEVANCES

Don’t air individual grievances in group meetings. This might seem like another no-brainer, but tempers can run hot and override our best intentions. A group meeting is not the place to call out actions or misbehavior of any team member, and is not a suitable corrective action space.

Problems will inevitably arise, but if you must mention a situation that didn’t end the way it should have, focus on improvements to systems, and what can be done so that situation doesn’t arise again. Leave the blame where it belongs: on the playground.

6. IRRELEVANCE

Stop straying off point. Anecdotes, stories and tangents can be fun. Share them! Tell stories! Follow that thought down the Yellow Brick Road. Just don’t do it in a meeting, and certainly not in an all-hands meeting. Refer to your agenda as frequently as you need to. Appoint someone to take notes of additional meetings that might need to be made. Stay focused on the subjects at hand, and your meeting will be more productive.

7. MEETING MANIA

Stop scheduling so many meetings. Do you have a weekly standing meeting? Evaluate its necessity and its length. Think you can get everyone on board through email or your project management solution? Try that first. You may find that you “inherited” a bunch of meetings that can be handled more effectively some other way.

Smartt Principles: Business Acumen for Great Results (NorthBayBusinessJournal.com/SmarttPrinciples) is a monthly column by Nicole Smartt. Nicole is co-owner of Star Staffing, one of the fastest-growing companies in America appointed by Inc. Magazine. As a business and career advice expert, Nicole has been featured in Forbes, The Washington Post, Fox Business, and Wall Street Journal.