Taking A Velvet Hammer To Time-Wasting Meetings

I was speaking with a friend recently who is at his wits’ end about how his weekly staff meeting runs. He is already doing a lot of things right. He creates and circulates an agenda in advance. He emphasizes the start and end times of the meeting, and why it is important for them to end on time. Over lunch, he and the staff have time to socialize to get all of their stories out before the staff meeting begins.

During the meeting, he tries to redirect, focus people, and give each person a set amount of time to cover their area. Despite all of these steps, his staff meetings balloon and never end at the 90-minute mark. They always run long. Have you ever been in those shoes?

Have you ever struggled with how to turn a chronically frustrating meeting into a more productive use to everyone’s time?

As I continued to reflect upon his situation, I began to think it was time for him to use his velvet hammer. The velvet hammer is a crucial tool for all leaders. It’s what Bill Treasurer described in Leaders Open Doors as wrapping the hard, difficult message in a style of delivery that helps people receive it.

How would I use the velvet hammer in this situation? Here are the five steps I would take:

  1. Plan & Share The Agenda – As usual, create the agenda, make clear start and stop times, allocate time to each person, and distribute that agenda to your staff. The change? Put the staff who try to keep meetings on-track first on the agenda. Place the chronic meeting de-railers on the back half of the agenda.
  2. Remind Your Staff – Meet one-on-one with each of the staff in advance of the upcoming meeting. Remind them that the meeting will end after 90-minutes, even if all areas haven’t been addressed. This is the time to let them know you’re serious.
  3. Run The Meeting With Confidence – Remember, you set the tone. Use a timer everyone can see that will ring loud enough for everyone to hear. Start the meeting on time, and remind everyone that you’re sticking to the agenda. As you move through agenda segments, praise them if you’re on time or point out that you’re however many minutes behind.
  4. Hold Your Ground – Finish the meeting at the 90-minute mark. If they got all business concluded, praise them again! They’ve turned over a new leaf. However, if their previous patterns continued and all business hasn’t been covered, you’ve still got to end the meeting. Say, “That’s all the time we have. You all knew we had 90 minutes and we had to end for that reason, yet we still didn’t cover all the areas. Next week, our staff meeting will also be 90 minutes long, and I expect that we will cover all areas. If we didn’t get to your area, stick around and we’ll schedule 5 minutes together to be sure you can keep making progress on your work.”
  5. Keep Holding Your Ground –  – Some of your staff will get frustrated, especially if one of the time-wasters didn’t get to cover their area. Talk with them and remind them that you warned them. Now is the time you need to keep holding your ground and stick to what you say. Let everyone know the next staff meeting will be run in just the same way.

I know this is a jarring approach to keeping a meeting on track, and it shouldn’t be your first strategy to deploy. But sometimes a jarring encounter with the velvet hammer is what your team needs to understand your expectations and improve their performance.

When you are faced with meetings that can’t stay on track, what do you do?

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Bill Treasurer

About Bill Treasurer

Bill Treasurer is a bestselling author, leadership consultant, and creator of Q Cards. He is the founder of Giant Leap Consulting, a courage-building company, and the author of the international bestseller, Courage Goes to Work. His workshops have been taught to thousands of executives in eleven countries on five continents. For more than two decades, Bill has designed and delivered programs for emerging and experienced leaders from such organizations as NASA, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lenovo, eBay, UBS Bank, Spanx, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to founding Giant Leap Consulting, Bill served as an executive in Accenture’s change management and human performance practice, eventually becoming the $35 billion company’s first full-time internal executive coach.

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