Unusual Cures For Boring Meetings

Estimated reading time: 8 mins

It is not even 10:00 am on Monday morning and it is already time to rush into one of those dreadful weekly status report meetings, a ritual that started sometime in your previous birth. You know for sure that no one will have anything substantial to report, or a few trumpeters will hype up their trivial tasks, or someone will hijack the whole meeting, or a few egos will get bruised, and the meetings will go on till eternity or until your bladders burst.

Besides those umpteen cups of coffee, tea and biscuits are fast taking you many steps closer to indigestion and ulcers. Everyday millions of people waste time on useless meetings that serve no purpose. And non stop meetings are one of the most life draining and unavoidable activities of the corporate world, standing only next to performance appraisals in toxicity. In many organizations a stage has been reached where the very mention of the word meeting is equated with something that is boring and life draining. Today many managers and employees go to office just to attend meetings throughout the day without getting a chance to do any meaningful work. For example, in some organizations even the most trivial of tasks cannot be done without first calling a meeting, then a second meeting and countless other meetings. Agreed, meetings and conference calls are necessary to run things, but instead of running things they usually end up stopping things from happening. Also, another big challenge for the meeting initiators is to keep all the attendees awake.

Thinking out of the box, have you every asked yourself why do all team meetings have to revolve only around status reports, reorganizations, metrics, jargon filled presentations, performance appraisals, process improvements, customer complaints, finding scapegoats, etc? Well, you may loudly argue that is what the business is all about. So meetings are necessary whether people like it or not. True, some meetings are unavoidable and absolutely necessary to run the business. But as a manager in charge of leading (and sometimes inspiring) a team what can you do to make your team meetings more enjoyable, knowledge oriented and almost a pure joy for everyone? What is the magic pill to make meetings more exciting, produce better results and gradually eliminate the need for routine meetings?

Quite simple. Have more meetings, but of a different variety for a period of time. Apart from regular departmental meetings, periodically have at least 20-30% of your team meetings that have nothing to do with your business or customer issues.

Now you may again loudly argue that you are not paid by your management or the customer to do such meetings as they have nothing to do with the business. Besides who will have time or money for all that stuff? But the unique meetings I am going to recommend can take you to a different dimension of business improvement and people management skills, well beyond the dry fodder that is fed as management best practices everywhere.

Have a look at the topics suggested below.

  1. Inspirational quotes meeting: Have a meeting where you read, enjoy and discuss hundreds of great, inspirations quotes of various leaders around the world. Such quotes contain wisdom and advice that has withstood the test of time. Many quotes contain fantastic management wisdom. There have been numerous cases where a single inspirational quote has completely changed the life of many people. For example a quote like, “It is a terrible thing to look over your shoulder when you are trying to lead and find no one there-Franklin Roosevelt,” or “There will be a time when loud-mouthed, incompetent people will seem to be getting the best of you. When that happens, you only have to be patient and wait for them to self-destruct. It never fails-Richard Rybolt,” can start a very interesting conversation and self awareness.
  2. Stress Management Meeting: Discuss and brainstorm useful and practicable stress management techniques that can be practiced within and outside the workplace. For example, a simple technique like a proper breathing exercise can be a great knowledge and productivity enhancer to the team to deal with stress caused by various workplace issues.
  3. Life of a Great Leader Meeting: Have a meeting where you study the life of one or more great world non business leaders and freedom fighters like Lincoln, Churchill, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks or even Hitler. The lives of non business leaders around the world and the kind of troubles they have endured can have a terrific impact on your life. For example, the perseverance of Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years rotting in jail can make you feel like your workplace troubles are nothing compared to what some people have suffered.
  4. Gift a Book Meeting: Most employees, including managers, don’t read good books relating to management, history, religion, self help, etc. This is why there are so many workplace problems worldwide. But reading and re-reading a good book can take you to a different level of professionalism, confidence, business improvement techniques, etc., that can help both the business and the individual. For example, have your team members gift each other a good self help or management book to each other by investing invests ten dollars every two months.
  5. Family and Health Issues Meeting: Have a meeting that can openly discuss family problems and health tips. People often avoid discussing family and personal health issues openly as they consider it as washing dirty linen in public. But if you can overcome that strong inertia and slowly start discussing whatever is discussable it can often provide valuable insights into a person’s behavior and understand each other. Each employee is unique with his or her own personal problems that can impact their style of work. For example, on a lighter sense employees with no kids can perhaps understand why employees with naughty kids grow bald faster or cannot take work home. Often nobody knows or admits openly that the health condition of an employee’s family member can also play an important role in an employee’s concentration and productivity in an organization. People often think that employees should leave their family problems at their homes. But it is not that easy nor humane to ignore family issues as everyone will have some pressing problem or the other. Such issues can have a serious impact on a person’s overall concentration, productivity and contribution to an organization. For example, I have seen how a young team member of mine lose his concentration and interest in work due to a family member’s terminal disease that lasted for nearly two years. But the question you should ask is can such an employee be punished for poor performance or should the team pitch in to lift his or her spirits and take teamwork to the next generation?
  6. Financial Planning Meeting: Discuss ways in which team members can learn and enforce proper financial planning in their lives. Various studies have proved that most people know nothing about proper financial planning or its importance. They could be getting a great salary but saving practically nothing. But when the Damocles sword falls on their head it will be too late to do anything. You need to save for a rainy day to prevent serious trouble for yourself and your dependants and family members. Similar to an organization’s disaster recovery and business continuity plans, it is important for you to have a personal disaster recovery and livelihood continuity plan. Enough money in the bank and other safe investments provides you that much need mental strength to handle workplace harassments, including job losses. Anything unexpected may happen to you at any time, and that is why it is important to save some money for emergencies through proper financial planning.
  7. Work Life Balance Meeting: Discuss ways in which you can enforce work life balance to improve everyone’s health. Today everyone talks about work life balance, but nothing substantial happens in any department. In my umpteen years in the workplace I have never come across any real management sponsored mechanism to reduce stress and improve health of employees. And, I have never seen any HR representative walk across the floors and chase employees out at 5:00 pm or on weekends so that they go home to enjoy a proper work life balance.
  8. Hobbies Meeting: Discuss hobbies and interests of team members. You may be surprised to know the existence of great talent within your own teams that can be exploited and nurtured for mutual benefit.
  9. Video Meetings : Today excellent DVDs are available containing speeches, presentations and coaching sessions on a variety of business and self help topics prepared by management gurus and reputed authors. Normally such videos are expensive but worth every penny as they can be very interesting and highly educational. Every department library should have a good collection of such DVDs and periodic video sessions can be arranged for the benefit of all your team members. Similarly, countless useful and beneficial topics like email etiquette, humor & harassment in the workplace, handling rude customers, charity, useful electronic gadgets, household tips, first aid, and even philosophy, etc., can be discussed to everyone’s benefit.

Each of the above topics has the indirect potential to help the employee as well as the business. Very soon the knowledge gained in such meetings can pay rich dividends, both to the employee and the organization. They can also inject a superior level of self consciousness that can help you inside and outside the workplace, and also gradually reduce the need for moronic business meetings. Get suggestions from various employees for unique topics. Always try to choose topics that can attract many people without much prodding. But not everyone may be interested in every topic. If somebody is not interested in a particular topic don’t force them. Keep the duration short, sweet and at moderate intervals like once a month to make every meeting a refreshing and memorable one.

Now who would like to attend an exciting meeting on, “Fungus wilt caused on Pseudomonas Solanacearum by Calonectria and Cylindrocladium Spathiphylli bacteria in eastern Cambodia?”

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1 thought on “Unusual Cures For Boring Meetings”

  1. Useful list – particularly for a team in the same office. I still recall the one and only time a manager of mine called a team meeting and proceeded to discuss Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits of highly effective people” and Richard Carslon’s “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”. We were stunned – this wasn’t done in tech meetings. So, no surprise that I went and ordered the book from Amazon a couple weeks later. Must’ve been 1998 or thereabouts.

    Funny enough, that’s the one meeting I remember well – the rest are lost in a fog of boredom 🙂

    One problem with virtual team meetings across multiple time zones is often the lack of “empathy” between members… making it difficult for non-business meetings to gel effectively.

    The solution? Well, back in pre-recessionary times I went on a few “offsite meetings” with other Regional IT engineers in our team.

    Usually a few senior managers would also wangle a trip from Europe/US to whatever Asia-Pac location had been decided on – and we’d do presentations and team strategy 9-6 and then relax in the evening.

    Over Dinner, a game of pool, a few beers you can learn a lot about a person that most formal “career development” programs will never ever get close to.

    The real value (in addition to actually getting to know and like (most of) your co-workers) is that a shared bridge of trust begins to develop upon return.

    Meaning that it’s much easier to go the extra mile for someone you know and like – understanding that they’ll do the same for you in a tight spot. (One downside is that it’s a lot easier to call someone you know at 2am for help in fixing a problem…!)

    Alas, once the bean counters get wind of all this productive enjoyment they soon put a stop to the money flow and it’s back to video conf-calls (yawn!) and “not-my-issue” damage control. Shame, really – it coulda been great!

    Anyway to conclude and come back on topic – the best advice I’ve ever read about meetings (other than 80% of them are unnecessary and should be ignored… but which 80%? lol) is to….. drumroll…

    … remove all the freaking chairs from the meeting room!

    TaDa!! As if by magic, a 60 hour meeting becomes 30 minutes. Same productivity. All you need’s a flip chart/whiteboard and someone to take meeting minutes.
    No company I’ve ever worked for has ever had the balls to do this… maybe there’s a HR health/safety rule (think “death by meeting standing up”?)

    But the Corporate Services folks would love me – save $$$ on furniture 🙂

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