The main reasons for failure are that a meeting is launched without thinking through:
- what the meeting is for, and
- how best to use the time and resources available.
Most meetings have an agenda, but this is usually a cryptic list of headings that doesn’t help much to achieve efficiency. The person who put an item on the agenda may have a had a positive purpose in doing so, but if that purpose is not made explicit its probability of being achieved starts low.
A lot of meeting content consists of discussions. A discussion can be an ill-defined conversation that delivers little of value – but people still get drawn in because a discussion feels as if it should be purposeful even when it isn’t. Without a clear sense of why a discussion exists, people will tend to use it for a wide variety of reasons:
- to look clever;
- to look important;
- to persuade others that their view is correct;
- to show off;
- to further another agenda;
- to score cheap points.
Chairing a meeting in these circumstances is difficult. If the chair has a sense that a conversation is no longer adding value, he or she can intervene but in doing so risks being wrong and looking like a bully – even if this is done for the best of intentions. When this is done well, the direction of the meeting is still controlled by the perceptions of the chair rather than the requirements of the team. It’s almost impossible to manage a meeting successfully when there isn’t a framework to run it against.
The reasons for failure point to the main solutions:
- being clear about the purpose of the meeting, and
- actively managing the time and resources towards achieving that purpose.
Once there is a framework in place, it’s possible to start managing meetings to a successful conclusion.