If you’re like most people at work, you probably wish you spent less time in meetings. I remember as a COO, my colleagues and I used to estimate the cost per minute of the aggregate salaries around the table in “leadership team meetings” and wish we could spend the money on something more worthwhile.
Yet search the web for “effective meetings” and you get overkill: 9.4 million helpful ideas, along with everyone’s favorite book or article about it.
Based on my experience as an executive and coach, I approach it a bit differently. I propose there are seven “faces” or patterns of behavior that reduce a meeting’s effectiveness. Subtract those, and you get more productive meetings that people actually want and need to attend.
How to do that? Learn to recognize these seven unwanted behaviors, and pre-agree with your colleagues on how to manage them out of the room whenever they come up. Periodically video your meetings, watch it together, and address what you see.
Let’s take a look at them:
1. The Repeater
Behavior: Repeating, in the form of restating, glomming or echoing.
If someone says, “I have to echo what Barbara said earlier,” and/or restates all or part of it, there’s no value added to the comment. Similarly, glomming on or “voting for” someone else “I have to agree with Peter’s idea here,” when no one’s asking for agreement, it’s similarly no value added. When intervention is needed, because you have a chronic repeater among you, it’s important to address it in a way that has the highest likelihood of changing the behavior. Sometimes a little embarrassment at group level goes a long way, while others may require a lighter touch.
2. The Expert
Behavior: Needing to have a meeting before the meeting, or to be “pre-sold.”
In order to save face, or appear to be expert, it’s all too common for certain people to over prepare. At one former client company, the CEO needed to be “pre-sold” on any new idea, issue, or course change presented at the semi-monthly executive team meeting. In his mind, he was being thorough and getting briefed, yet of course the executives felt that they were dealing with every issue twice. And they were. So if you have someone who “never wants to be surprised” or wants to be “pre-sold” the group needs to address that and decide whether there’s purpose to having the same conversation again at individual—then group—level.
3. The Dominator
Behavior: Talking too much, or having something to say about everything.
Do you have a “dominator” among you? This would be the one who says something about everything--maybe they love to expound, extrapolate, or extrovert their way to greater significance. Again, it’s important not to let this go unchecked. It’s best to make sure they get the feedback privately at first, maybe send an emissary, but make sure they are empowered with the sentiments of the entire group. The ask: “to self-monitor and rebalance to lessen the number of minutes you are talking in each meeting.”
4. The Hijacker
Behavior: taking the meeting in their own direction, or drilling into too much detail.
Often based in a profound lack of ability to read the room and assess what’s needed, I also refer to this person as the “rabbit-holer.” They will drill down into too much detail, or take things off topic. Video will help, and it’s again important to notice the behavior, and be permitted (pre-agree with your colleagues) to call them on the behavior at the time, as in “Paul, we’re noticing you’re taking us off track here…”
5. The Poker Face
Behavior: not participating, holding back, observing.
Much the opposite of the dominator or hijacker, we have the person who remains silent, as if clinically observing the situation. People say, well that’s her way … Leslie is an introvert. Not ok. If you’re there, you should be an equal participant, and if not, let’s talk about whether you need a seat at the table, and whether the table needs you there.
6. The Bureaucrat
Behavior: keeping the meeting’s discussion focused on the past or recent past.
This person’s song, “If I could turn back time, …,” because they want to talk about the unchangeable, frustratingly frozen past. “When we did this last year,” or “We used to…” or “Why didn’t we….” The temporal moment of leadership is the present to the future, whereas the bureaucrat is only concerned with the way things were. Feedback can help, as can a temporal shift by anyone in the room, “That’s great—now we understand the past, what shall we do going forward?”
7. The Bully
Behavior: chronically asking “why” questions or being a bully or interrogator.
Unfortunately, at the more senior levels, there can be bullying behavior that would make a reform school headmaster blush. It’s important to watch what fuels escalations and learn to manage it, as well as address it head on. Often force met blunt feedback can be a powerful approach.
Once you have those down, agree to identify and address unwanted behavior within your team. Use video to check your progress and address your behavior.. Not every meeting, but just often enough to get the picture of which of these apply to you. Then do some work on them and video again in six months. What do you notice?
Do these things, and you can’t help but have more effective management team meetings.