Posted by Jacob Victory
The routine is the same every morning. I enter my office. I walk in, put my large coffee, banana and yogurt (creamy, please) on my desk, hike off my hiking boots (I walk to work) and look for that button under my desk that officially starts the day: the “on” button on the computer. I guzzle a few sips of the piping hot coffee as I wait for the computer to boot up. Once the computer’s ready (it’s temperamental), I search not for new emails, not for documents, but I search for my schedule as I know they’ll be something (or, a lot of things these days) on my calendar that makes me wince. There is always one (or three) meetings staring back at me that garners the “I-don’t-want-to-meet-just-to-meet-anymore” sentiment.
In a time of doing more with less, with job cuts eating into staff productivity, with the excessive amount of presentations executives must present to other executives, most meetings don’t make sense anymore. I’ve reported to “Ms. Healthcare” for awhile now. She is brilliant, fun and very driven. Yet, she is obsessed with meetings—so much so that she proposes pre-meeting meetings to meet about what to meet about. She also requests that I prepare documents for these pre-meetings and send them to her 24 hours prior our meeting. Here’s how one typical meeting rolls:
First 10 meetings: I wait outside her door for her to wrap up her last meeting.
First “official” 5 minutes of the meeting: “What are we meeting about again?” she asks with her arms folded.
Next 10 minutes: I’m trying to walk her through the rationale of why I was asked to prepare a document for this meeting and guide her on what was in the document. It is clear she has not read it.
Next 20 minutes: We spend only 5 minutes talking about the relevant items and the next 15 trying to undo everything we discussed in the last 30.
Last 15 minutes: We discuss alternatives to what we think trying to do, only to nix all of the options in every second that follows.
Last 30 seconds: “I’m late for my next meeting,” I’m told, as I collect my pad and walk out of there with a bewildered look that leaves me confused on my next steps.
Amusingly, I’ve noticed that my meetings are scheduled only on Mondays and Fridays, which leaves me anxious on Sundays and exclaiming TGIF! on most Friday afternoons. I will bet you cash-money that if you ask a fellow executive, you’ll get a similar response on what a typical meeting feels like. You may ask, “Why don’t you just refocus your boss and do a better job managing up?” Well, our response will be that the executives are not listening to their staff and are so immersed in meetings that they don’t realize this pattern of unproductive busy-ness that most take so much pride in.
Here’s how I’ve learned to focus the meetings that I lead:
- Send out the documents prior to the meeting and require people to read them before the meeting.
- Do not bring copies of the documents to the meetings. For the non-readers, they will quickly learn that you mean business!
- Send an agenda prior to the meeting. Keep it less than 4 bullets.
- With the agenda, send out the question you need to answer with the meeting members before the meeting ends. This will focus the meeting.
- Respect people’s time—you get extra brownie points for ending the meeting earlier than planned.
- Thank people for their work and make sure there are next steps, with accountable folks and deadlines.
- Set up the next meeting immediately, following the timelines given at the meeting.
- Presto. Here’s another cash-money bet: You’ll end the meeting in less than 40 minutes.
Now, I’m not espousing that we don’t connect with our fellow workers, and that we don’t mingle, schmooz and banter around. But we’re all busy and we’re all drowning in governmental regulations, expenditure reduction initiatives, staff shortages and changing policies due to the new health reform projects. To keep the ship afloat, let’s meet more efficiently!
Here’s another quick solution to reduce meeting time and keep things focused: conference calls. There is no better way to get a one hour meeting condensed into a 10 minute discussion that is pointed, productive and empowering. Chat away!
Jacob Victory, an NYU-Wagner alum, is the Vice President of Performance Management Projects at the Visiting Nurse Service of New York. Jacob spends his days getting excited about initiatives that aim to reform and restructure health care. He’s held strategic planning, clinical operations and performance improvement roles at academic medical centers, in home health care and at medical schools. Jacob also exercises the right side of his brain. Besides drawing flow charts and crunching numbers all day, he makes a mean pot of stew and does abstract paintings, often interpreting faces he finds intriguing.