SLAC Today logo

The Lab Has An Agenda. Why Doesn't Your Meeting?

Last month's PAUSE event generated numerous discussions about reducing the number and improving the efficiency of meetings. And for good reason: if you have a bunch of people in a room, it needs to pay off. It often doesn't. So what's the problem?

The usual complaints include: no agenda, unclear objectives, wrong people in the room, right people in the room but they are not listening, and people, right or wrong, being late as so many meetings are scheduled back-to-back. National surveys indicate that employees spend on average between six and 20 hours per week in meetings. These same surveys reveal that the majority of employees feel the time they spend in meetings is unproductive.

What's a lab to do? A lab can do nothing. It's what people can do. It's what you can do.

If you want to be a better meeting leader, prepare by considering the following:

1. Purpose: What type of meeting will this be—information giving, information getting, or decision-making?

2. Goals: What are the desired outcomes of the meeting—understanding about…, an action plan for…, a prioritize list of….?

3. Key staff: What participants are essential to achieve the desired outcomes?

4. Agenda: Do I have the time to prepare and send an advance agenda?

5. Drivers: What will make people feel this is a meeting they absolutely will not want to miss—and impel them to arrive on time and be prepared?

6. Utility: Do we really need a meeting?

If you want to be a better participant, you should arrive on time, be prepared by reviewing the agenda or other advance materials, and listen. And to really listen means knowing and controlling those impulses that prevent you from listening, such as asking unrelated questions, interrupting, engaging in another activity while the speaker is talking, dismissing, objecting, jumping to a conclusion, sharing your own story and one-upping the speaker, or passionately expressing a somewhat unrelated thought. Listening is really all about being present to the speaker.

Regular meetings may need unique techniques. For example, the Office of the Chief Finance Officer Subcouncil deliberately allows participants to express their passion on topics that aren't completely targeted to the agenda. They call it "soapboxing." Anyone can ask for 60 seconds to say what they feel is important, and then the meeting can get back on track.

The goals of a meeting may be important, the people in the room may be capable of accomplishing those goals, but the essential question is always: did your meeting achieve its objective? Make your meetings pay off. Then end early and celebrate.

For fairly rapid meeting advice or assistance call Frank Topper (x3024) or Eric Shupert (x3518).

—Frank Topper and Eric Shupert
SLAC Today, September 23, 2010