Conference Calls for Dummies

meeting pic

This video is too funny not to share (really, you should watch it) – it’s funny because it resonates with most of us who have had the dubious pleasure of participating in conference calls that look a lot like this – fumbling, boring, time-wasting, ineffective. Right now in meetings across the country, people are suffocating in meetings they wish they didn’t have to attend. And now that we can hold meetings virtually, being out of the office doesn’t get you a get out of jail free card. Meetings have become a bit of a cultural joke, really, but at the same time we see them as a necessary evil. How else will work be accomplished by people working together? What can we do to make them less painful?

In a past post we outlined a few basic principles for ensuring meetings don’t get out of control, which center around being thoughtful about people, purpose, and process. Streamline as much as possible – don’t invite attendees who have nothing to contribute, and don’t hold a meeting if an email would suffice. If someone just needs to be “in the know” about the outcome of the meeting, cc them on minutes from the meeting. Who should attend is inherently linked with your purpose – is this a decision-making meeting, or a status update? Make sure everyone is clear about what the purpose is so that discussions don’t get off track. Follow a clear process, from following timeframes to assigning roles. Someone needs to be in charge of ensuring the group stays on task, someone else should be responsible for capturing output. Articulate and adhere to some basic agreed-upon ground rules, like coming prepared and being respectful. Perform meeting audits periodically to get a sense of what is working and what is not.

More recently we delved into the topic of creating a collaborative work environment. I think one problem with most meetings is that aren’t collaborative in nature. People may be in the same room together, but there isn’t the sense of co-laboring or really working together. Think about the last meeting you attended that you left feeling energized versus enervated – it was that sense of camaraderie and challenge that made it feel like a success. The elements that support a collaborative culture will naturally foster more effective meetings – appreciation for how each person contributes and understanding how it all fits together to create success for the organization.

Meetings don’t have to be painful to be effective. In fact, I theorize an inverse relationship between how satisfying a meeting is and how productive it is. If we follow some sound guiding principles and cultivate a relaxed, collegial atmosphere, meetings might even deserve a new name.