“My work life feels like an endless round of meetings that seem to go nowhere.” This is the complaint meeting planners often hear. “Every time department heads can’t figure out what to do, they call a meeting to just ‘knock it around’. Knocking it around is not productive. Everyone talks at once; arguments break out; personal enmities surface; nobody listens; the boss usually adjourns the meeting to give everyone time to think about the issues until the next meeting. You see what I mean? Meetings just lead to more meetings. It’s endless.”
This is Your Life
Does this sound like your life? If so, you’re not alone. The endless meeting syndrome seems to have taken hold across the entire industrial complex, and meeting planners are being asked to do something. The bosses all say the same thing: “Can you think of more exciting ways to run meetings? Our people seem to be bored and disgruntled every time we get them together for an important meeting. What are we doing wrong?
What can we do about this?”
Principles: Life and Work
Ray Dalio, the legendary founder of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund in 2011 with US$150 billion in assets under management, has written a book about meeting fatigue. After attending literally hundreds of meetings, Dalio believes the problem is that most managers do not know how to run productive meetings. Usually they violate one or all of the following seven rules:
- Make it clear who is directing the meeting. Meetings without someone clearly in charge run a high risk of being directionless and unproductive.
- Be clear about the goal of the meeting. Do you want an open-minded debate or is the meeting intended to educate? Different intentions dictate the size, location, and rules of order.
- Avoid the two opposing thought poles of group think – people not asserting independent views and solo-think – people being unreceptive to the thoughts of others.
- Beware of topic slip – the random drifting from topic to topic without achieving completion on any of them.
- Be sure to assign responsibility. Too often, groups will make a decision to do something without assigning personal responsibility. It is not clear, then, who is supposed to follow-up, and no one does.
- Always enforce the two-minute rule. It specifies that you have to give someone that uninterrupted period to explain their thinking.
- Insist on completion. Meetings that fail to reach completion are a waste of time.
Dalio’s seven rules are common sense. But until we step back and take a commonsense look at our own repetitive and ineffective habits, we are destined to continue the conduct until it becomes unbearable. Most managers manage toward the familiar. That’s the way we’ve always done it, they say. Ray Dalio advises us to take a continuous hard look at our legacy processes and procedures and ask if they are achieving intended goals. Often, he suggests, you will find that they are no longer effective, and you need to change. It is a natural human instinct to resist change.
Resist that instinct. Change constantly, gladly, and willingly. You will be a more effective manager and person for it.