Overcoming IMC: Ineffective Meeting Culture

“Ugh!” she sighed, “I have back-to-back meetings all week.  I’m going to have to either stay late or take work home every night!”  It wasn’t tough to see the tension sweep over her, undermining her engagement with a sense of helpless dread for the week to come.

As an enthusiastic, energetic high-performer, Andrea had eagerly accepted the opportunity to become the firm’s Operations Director.  She had the credentials.  Her experience and track record of success spoke for itself. Yet, barely a month into the new role, Andrea found herself mired in non-stop meetings.  Frustrated, disheartened, and disengaged, there was no time for innovation or invention of any kind.  Or so she felt.

The Symptom

In truth, Andrea’s struggles are increasingly common in today’s workplace.  An already intense work pace, coupled with increased challenges for profit and growth, translates too often to a frenetic, even frantic, onslaught of project meetings, focus groups, and working sessions.  The fear of failure becomes so powerful that the seemingly only resort is to meet more often, with more people, to tackle more problems.

The Diagnosis

The first step to rediscovering Andrea’s passion and energy lay in first understanding the crux of the issue – simply a time management issue with a twist.  It became clear through our discussion that her real frustration lay in her inability to carve out time for strategizing, planning, and actually “getting work done.”

Andrea had hit on the key issue, Ineffective Meeting Culture, or IMC.  The bad news?  It’s an issue that far too many leaders and employees face.  The good news?  Its easily remedied!

The Prescription

1)   Recognize IMC tendencies – Leaders should acknowledge and actively discuss this phenomenon in their organization.  You know the old saying, “The first step to getting better is admitting you have a problem.”  It’s the same with IMC.

2)   Evaluate every scheduled meeting – At the beginning of each week, examine the purpose and planned outcomes of each meeting on your schedule.  If you can’t determine precisely what inputs you will provide or the specific decisions to be made at that meeting, don’t go.  Push the responsibility to the meeting planner (often a project lead, but it could be whoever scheduled the meeting) to clearly articulate the purpose and necessary contributions for each participant.

3)   Develop alternative strategies – If a meeting is scheduled to update everyone on project progress, instead send a detailed stoplight report or project summary.  If your input is required, inquire if you can provide this in an email, rather than spending an hour in a meeting (be tactful about your wording!).  If a decision is needed, send materials for review in advance and then reduce the meeting time to fifteen minutes (enough time for brief discussion and to articulate the actual decision reached) instead of 30-60 minutes.

In the month after we met, Andrea worked through these three basic steps.  At first, it was difficult for her to push back on all the meeting requests she received, but by our next session, the new habits had been formed.  She still found herself attending more meetings than she would like, but she had freed up nearly 50% of her weekly time.  She had regained a little of her energetic spark and for the first time as Operations Director, she was able to focus her attention on really making a difference for the company.

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