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Maximiliane Wagner

18.4.2016

Why meetings so often go wrong and how we can prevent it

On average, 15% of working time is spent on meetings, according to the results of a study by the international management consultancy Bain & Company. A lot of time, therefore, which should of course be used sensibly and deliver good results. But unfortunately, all too often we experience exactly the opposite. Meetings drag on unnecessarily, some participants don't say a word, others dominate the whole meeting. People do not listen to each other properly. Statements are toned down and generalized to avoid conflicts. In the end, no decision is made or what has been decided is never put into practice. But how does it actually happen and, above all, how can it be prevented?

Effective meetings need preparation

Just quickly send the invitation to a meeting to the big round, so that everyone is informed and involved. These are the best conditions for the meeting to fail. Even before the invitations go out, some considerations should be made.

Who should be invited?

The rule of thumb is, as many as necessary, as few as possible. Because the more participants, the more requests to speak, the longer the meeting takes. But of course, everyone who can help to work on the topic and move it forward should be there. Attendance is compulsory for those who have to decide in the end. It is therefore very helpful if the invitation states for whom attendance is important and for whom it is optional.

Why should the invited people participate?

In order to answer this question, the invitation to the meeting should already specify its goal and make its meaning clear. Of course the goal should also be realistically achievable in the meeting.

What exactly happens in the meeting?

An agenda is almost always a must in order to give the participants orientation. And if there is one, it must be communicated to all participants in advance so that they know what to expect. And, of course, they should also be informed if measures are expected from them to prepare.

How long does the meeting last?

The agenda should not only give an indication of what will happen in the meeting, but also how much time is available for discussion of each item. It is always important to allow for some additional buffer to avoid getting into stress.

If the meeting lasts more than two hours, breaks should be planned and also recorded in the agenda. On the one hand, this prevents heated discussions in the meeting from becoming so captivating that breaks are forgotten and the participants are at some point completely exhausted. On the other hand, firmly planned breaks help to keep the participants in the room during the meeting, because if they know that a break is planned soon anyway, they will probably be able to wait until then.

Structured meetings need leadership

Little by little, some before and some after the given time, the participants arrive in the meeting room. And since obviously not all of them are here yet, they naturally talk about current projects, the planned company outing and the last vacation. So distracted nobody notices when all participants are actually present and so 15 of the precious meeting minutes pass by before someone notices that one could actually start. It is therefore important that one person feels responsible for the meeting and leads it. This person must know who is attending the meeting and must moderate the meeting as soon as it can start. He or she is responsible for everything concerning the process of the meeting, such as keeping the agenda and the schedule. They should also write down intermediate steps and ideas for solutions.

It is not necessarily necessary for this person to assume the role of a neutral moderator. This means he or she can participate in discussions and express his or her opinion just like any other participant.

But how can you prevent that you get bogged down during the meeting, that participants drop out because they are dissatisfied with the course of the meeting or feel personally offended? One method that can help here is to "report disturbances". All you need is a red card with "disturbance" written on it, which can be accessed by everyone. All participants of the meeting are now requested to report a disorder at any time by lifting the card if they notice that something goes wrong in the meeting. A disruption can be anything that prevents the discussion from being constructive. This can include digressing from the topic, the feeling of needing a break or the feeling of not being able to cope with someone's statement. Disruptions always have priority and should be eliminated so that the meeting can be continued in a concentrated manner. This may take some time, but it is always worth it, because afterwards all participants are fully occupied.

Already discussed, and now what?

They agreed on three results, all of them leave the meeting in a good mood and in two weeks the first one will ask why nothing has happened yet. And when he talks to a colleague about it, it turns out that he remembers the result of the meeting quite differently, but he also wonders why the result has not yet been implemented.

The person in charge can also prevent this during the meeting. To do this, he or she should record the results in writing at the end of the meeting and briefly discuss them again with everyone. It is not uncommon to discover that there were misunderstandings after all and can clear them up. This also gives the participants another opportunity to think through the discussed contents and, if necessary, to raise objections again.

Once the solutions have actually been agreed upon, concrete measures should be derived and the persons responsible for them should be identified. Thus, the participants not only leave the meeting with the knowledge of what has now been decided, but also who is responsible for which area of implementation.

It all sounds very simple, but all too often we neglect it in our everyday work. Yet the optimization of meetings offers huge opportunities. On the one hand, more effective meetings can save a lot of working time and therefore a lot of money. On the other hand, employees have more time to take care of their other tasks and are therefore less stressed. In addition, properly conducted meetings not only lead to better results, but also avoid a lot of frustration among the participants. So it would be in everyone's best interest to make a little more effort when planning and conducting meetings. I hope some of my suggestions can help you in the future.

Maximiliane Wagner

UX Concepter & Usability Engineer

mw@coeno.com

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