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Effective Leadership By Mick Ukleja

How Much Oxygen Will Your Meeting Require?Mick Ukleja

December 18th, 2012 - You have a meeting scheduled for 60 minutes, but you only have 45 minutes of material. So do you quit after 45 minutes? Nineteen times out of 20 the meeting will go 60 minutes. Twenty-two minutes worth of content will somehow end up being a 60-minute meeting. Why does it work this way? It’s a simple law of physics.

Thanks to Boyle and Bernoulli, we know that a gas will expand to fill the available space. So that little pocket of oxygen in your office right now has automatically expanded to fill your entire room.

This is the way a meeting functions. They are like gas, in more ways than one. They will expand to fill whatever time you allow them to fill. The reason the 30-minute meeting will last 60 minutes is because we have no other gauge to determine when it’s over. The schedule said one hour, so in one hour we are done.

One group did a study of people coming out of meetings. The people were asked, “Did your meeting accomplish its objective”? The most common answer was not yes and it wasn’t no. The most common answers were, “I have no idea,” or “I have no clue.” This number was even higher after virtual meetings for obvious reasons.

Wouldn’t it be helpful if the meeting attendees could articulate the meeting’s objectives? You can still have an agenda without a clear objective.

There are a couple of problems with this.

1. If you don’t know the objective of the meeting – not just on the surface but the real one – how will you know if the meeting was a success or failure?

2. If you can’t describe the objective, then you don’t know when it is achieved. How in the world would you know when to call off the meeting other than an alarm that says the meeting is over? Whether a company is big or small, the meeting seems to last 60 minutes! This is true across industry sectors. And the reason is because they have not instituted a way of measuring the “accomplished” objective. Institute a statement of achievement for every meeting. “As a result of this meeting we will have achieved [insert your objective].”.

Forget being elaborate. Just state it as simply as you can. If you can’t get specific, then perhaps the meeting should be canceled until you can. The key is that everybody knows what’s trying to be accomplished, and knows when it is.

Time is not a good metric for assessing the success of a meeting. Going over 10 potential applicants for a position, choosing a Request For Proposal (RFP), making a decision on packaging a product, etc., are all legitimate Statements of Achievement. Sometimes the agenda is real time. In other words the agenda is made when we meet, and then we stick to it.

Research has shown that you can save 15 minutes on average from every meeting by using this approach. And that adds up!

This approach will eliminate what one expert refers to as Meeting Stew, where everything is thrown in the pot with no clear focus. “We’ll have one big staff meeting and just throw it in the stew.” To have an effective meeting, remember the following:

• Be clear on purpose
• Focus on outcomes
• Be mindful of the time
• Have a written agenda

People can fall into the trap of thinking that meetings are a waste of time, but meetings are vital to the success of any organization or group. Having a Statement of Achievement will help teams accomplish more and be a happier group. Determine for your meeting how much the oxygen will expand.

(Mick Ukleja is a consultant, author, coach, keynote speaker and president of LeadershipTraq, a leadership consulting firm. His clients have included Fortune 500 corporations and non-profit organizations. Check his weekly blog at www.leadershiptraq.com.)