It’s Friday at work and there is calmness in the air until the bell on your Outlook email begins to ring sounding off the start of your marathon of all day meetings. Meetings can be a great way to share information, connect with colleagues and obtain insight on leadership views when managed effectively.
Yet, sometimes we may get engulfed in a deluge of meetings that may not meet our expectations of what we think is an ideal meeting. Lucy Murray, a professional communicator recently referred to this phenomenon as “Waste of Time Meetings” or “WOTMs”. You may have seen the signs of a WOTM on the horizon recently at work.
For example, a WOTM will omit a time managed agenda with tangible items. Instead, you will walk into a room filled with free flowing conversation that is not actually focused on the topic identified in the meeting invite. Any effort to redirect the conversation to the specific topic is met with denial and smirks from those enjoying the “time out.” By the time you look up, an hour has passed and nothing has been accomplished except an agreement to meet the same time next week to discuss the same topic covered in the original WOTM.
Another sign of an impending WOTM is the lack of an agenda. That’s right; the agenda serves as your “meeting guide” which is used to help everyone stay on track with the time. An effective agenda is supposed to spark ideas as well as ensure the dialogue makes progress. It is courteous to create a meeting agenda for your participants then share it before the actual meeting so they will know in advance how the session correlates to their work efforts. Otherwise, if a person gets a meeting invitation and it is not part of their “What’s In It For Me” (WIIFM) purview, then they will ignore your future meeting invitations. Also, remember not to ignore the “WIIFM Factor” when planning your next meeting. The sessions should be planned to meet their expectations.
Another culprit is the perception that a meeting is a WOTM although it may be useful for participants. A “perceived WOTM” may occur during weekly group meetings where the same people talk each week and a “cast of hundreds” stands around listening for an hour or more. They will have little to no opportunity to actively engage in the session which makes them wonder why they have to be in the room in the first place. There are only so many times you can say a meeting is for the edification of the listeners. Part of listening includes active engagement between all participants in a meeting.
A way to combat the potential WOTM is to take a step back and think about what you can possibly learn the next time you participate. Then if the signs of WOTM sneak up on you like a snow shower in D.C., take the time to talk to the organizer and tactfully share suggestions on how to improve the next meeting.
Top 5 Tips to Avoid a WOTM
- Create an agenda and stick to it (your colleagues’ time is a precious commodity)
- Target your agenda to the audience to meet the “WIIFM factor”
- Ask participants to share their thoughts on the topic
- Rotate the weekly meeting speakers to give others the opportunity to contribute to the process
- Donate the time back to staff if you genuinely do not have a good reason for the meeting. They will appreciate the extra time to focus on tasks.
Great post, Tracy. We see lots of tips for how to avoid ‘WOTMs’, but very few go beyond telling you to make sure you have an agenda. Yours tips are new and helpful- thanks for sharing!
Hannah, thanks for the comments.
Great article. I ask for an agenda prior to determine WIIFM. However, I need to know as well from the organizer how can I contribute to her agenda.
Junebfl, I agree with you that it is important to encourage input to meeting agendas to meet the WIIFM expectations. Thank you for your comments.