7 Rules for Being “In the Meeting”

Most workplaces have problems with people being “in” meetings.  I am not referring to being late.  That is an entirely different issue.

I am talking about once the meeting begins.  In today’s high-paced technology distracted workplace, too often people are busy tapping away on their laptops or checking email on their iPhone.

Does this happen at your company?

Here is one very powerful rule for more productive meetings:

“If you are in the meeting, you are in the meeting.”

This means if you are going to be in the room, you must participate.  You cannot attend if you are going to work on other things.

Meetings Cost Money

In today’s Outlook happy world, many people are oblivious to the fact that meetings cost money.

If you are locking a dozen of your senior managers in a room for 2 hours to discuss a issue, you are making a monetary investment with their time.

I have seen extreme examples of this where executives are scheduled for multi-hour meetings to discuss an item so trivial that it involved a few thousand dollars.  How much money do you think you just spent reaching a simple decision?

There are even some great calculators out there to help you determine how much you are spending on your meeting.

In or Out…

Make a choice.  Either you are going to be in the meeting and participate or you will not be there.

I have seen people phone into a meeting down the hall so they can sit at their desk and work on other things.  Do you think they were productive contributors to the meeting?

Unfortunately, some companies do not give you a choice about attending meetings.

7 Rules for Being “In the Meeting”

Here are some simple rules to keep people “In the Meeting…”

  1. Ensure it is a Meeting – Many meetings should never happen.  They should be a one-on-one, or a phone call.  Make sure your team only schedules meetings when multiple team members need to get together to discuss or debate something.
  2. Invite the Right people – People tend to invite everybody to their meeting.  Maybe it makes them feel important.  Why invite 8 people if only 3 need to weigh in on a decision?  People who don’t need to be there shouldn’t even be invited.  You are wasting their time.
  3. The “Right To Decline” – This idea makes many managers nervous.  But you will be amazed how much more productive meetings become when you give team members the “Right to Decline.”  If people feel comfortable declining or bowing out of a meeting that they shouldn’t be at, it will improve team productivity.  It will also help drive Rule #1.
  4. Be on Time – This is a given.  Note people for not being on time.  Some companies actually add it to the meeting minutes.  Practice a strict 10 minute rule.  If you are more than 10 minutes late, you cannot join the meeting.  How many times has your team restarted a meeting at the 25 minute point?
  5. Be prepared – Just showing up at the meeting is a waste of everyone’s time.  If you are not prepared to discuss the topic at hand, you should cancel the meeting and reschedule.  I have seen a meeting to review a 100 page document that was sent out mere minutes before the start time.  Do you think anyone had read it?
  6. No Laptops or Smartphones – For the past few years, some companies have started “topless meetings,” meaning no laptops allowed.  Other strategies can involve checking smartphones in a bowl at the door.  Of course, asking some people to give up their smartphone is akin to asking a cowboy to give up their sidearm.  However, people in the meeting should not be working on other tasks.
  7. Hold Everyone Accountable – Everyone in the meeting, no matter their position, should be comfortable keeping the meeting on track even if it means calling someone out.  At a recent meeting, a junior analyst asked the CFO to stop checking their Blackberry.  Participants should feel empowered to do this.  Attendees should get a warning and then be excused from the meeting.

Be Present or Don’t Be There

Some of these rules may seem a bit strong.  But, after being denied entrance to a meeting or being asked to leave one, many people will reconsider the impact they are having on their coworkers and the business at large.

Encourage your team to “be present” while in meetings.  Or else, why bother being there?

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Brint

    I like the rules – have one question: Suppose you’re invited to be AT the meeting, but not IN the meeting – as in, you’re not a player (e.g., trustee), but you’re “invited” by virtue of your position to be there (i.e., your absence will be noted). But you will have no part. How about then?

  • Brint

    I like the rules – have one question: Suppose you’re invited to be AT the meeting, but not IN the meeting – as in, you’re not a player (e.g., trustee), but you’re “invited” by virtue of your position to be there (i.e., your absence will be noted). But you will have no part. How about then?

  • http://www.miningman.com/ Jamie Ross

    Great tips! I’m really intrigued by the “right to decline” – have not seen or used that before. Some of the teams I’ve worked with I’m not 100% sure it would work, people just didn’t like meetings and preferred to do other things, even if the meeting was very relevant to them. As you say though, it might be like delegating, take the pain for a while and once they feel enough pain for not coming to your meeting, they’ll start to turn up voluntarily.

    Love the idea of recording who’s late on the minutes too! Name and shame!

    Cheers,
    Mining Man

  • http://www.miningman.com Jamie Ross

    Great tips! I’m really intrigued by the “right to decline” – have not seen or used that before. Some of the teams I’ve worked with I’m not 100% sure it would work, people just didn’t like meetings and preferred to do other things, even if the meeting was very relevant to them. As you say though, it might be like delegating, take the pain for a while and once they feel enough pain for not coming to your meeting, they’ll start to turn up voluntarily.

    Love the idea of recording who’s late on the minutes too! Name and shame!

    Cheers,
    Mining Man

  • claude

    Very good points ! I specialy like the “right to decline”, very “loaded” concept, wether it be from the manager(employer) or attendee(employee) point of view!

  • claude

    Very good points ! I specialy like the “right to decline”, very “loaded” concept, wether it be from the manager(employer) or attendee(employee) point of view!

  • http://www.meggin.com/ Meggin McIntosh

    This is excellent!!! Would you be willing to have me publish this in a slight modified format for the Top Ten Productivity Tips series – all with full attribution of course (www.TopTenProductivityTips.com).

    Thanks!

    Meggin

  • http://www.meggin.com Meggin McIntosh

    This is excellent!!! Would you be willing to have me publish this in a slight modified format for the Top Ten Productivity Tips series – all with full attribution of course (www.TopTenProductivityTips.com).

    Thanks!

    Meggin

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  • Serena

    Great points. I especially agree with the “no laptops” rule. I had a situation where someone higher ranking than me brought his laptop to the meeting. This higher ranking individual typed on the laptop the entire meeting. He had a completely different recollection of the meeting than what actually happened. I sent out meeting minutes within 24 hours of the meeting. A week later, when everything fell apart, this higher ranking individual said his recollection must be true (even though he was typing on his laptop the entire time) and he was certainly not responsible for reading meeting minutes.

  • http://beyondthedefaults.com/ Abby Butts

    Great points but I’m wondering how “professional meeting attenders” would feel about them. I’m always amazed when people think that getting work done means meetings and email. Those things take you away from the real work you should be doing.