[photo by Woman of Scorn, flickr artist](http://www.flickr.com/photos/tiarescott/)
photo by tiarescott, flickr artist

i couldn’t tell you the number of times people have said to me, “i wish i wasn’t in meetings all day; i’d be able to get some actual work done for a change.” if i had a nickel for each time someone moaned or groaned about having to go to a meeting, i’d have easily paid my student loans off by now.it’s no secret: meetings suck.

but they don’t have to!

if a meeting you’re in is ever boring, or uninteresting, or leaves you totally disengaged — you’re doing it wrong. read through these 5 reasons your meetings suck, and learn from them.

1) too many people

a major issue that many meetings have is the number of people that are invited to attend. if you can achieve the goals of the meeting without having someone around, then it’s probably a good idea not to invite them. for people development reasons, i can forgive this. for instance, wanting to bring a new hire into a meeting with the client to observe proper etiquette and what kinds of personalities he or she can expect to have to work with in the future is a great idea. it’s exposure that you can’t replace and experience you can’t simulate. including someone on a meeting for their “visibility” is just plain ridiculous. if you think someone needs to be at a meeting so they can absorb information, you’ve missed the point; that’s what meeting minutes are for! so stop inviting people to meetings who don’t need to be there.

2) not the right people

no meeting should ever take place if a key decision maker isn’t present. you can only get so much done before you’re going to hit a wall. you can talk all you want, but you’re only spinning your wheels until your manager, team leader, project manager, resource manager, or whoever drops the starting gate. similarly, include all SMEs (subject matter experts) on the topic at hand. you wouldn’t ask your bartender to cut your hair, would you? (if you would, you’re a seriously strange person — and i think i’d like to meet you) also, if you know one of your key meeting invitees can’t make it — or otherwise cancels on you — cancel the entire meeting and reschedule it. make sure you have the right players in on your meetings. every time.

3) too many meetings

if you have a recurring meeting, for each instance of that meeting — make sure that it’s still relevant. there’s nothing worse than blocking off an hour or more of your time (which could prevent you from having some other meeting that is actually important), stopping the work you’re doing, and getting in the right frame of mind (i.e. caffeine to blood ratio) for a meeting, only to have the organizer say, “well…. we don’t have much to talk about today.” each and every meeting should add value to what you’re trying to accomplish. the good news is that this is often times easy to see in advance. if you know that you won’t have much in the way of an agenda for a meeting, then ax it and find some other means of delivering your abbreviated news flash.

4) too few meetings

on the flip side, if you invite a list of people to join a meeting, and go round-robin style around the table (or phone roster) taking inputs from each person individually, you’re doing it wrong. meetings aren’t meant to be token ring networks! meetings are supposed to be periods forcollaborative discussion, not a one-to-one or one-to-few broadcast of information. if you need information from multiple sources, and those multiple sources aren’t interconnected, you should be having a meeting with each individual source.take the meeting minutes from those individual sources and disseminate them to the rest of the team as needed. remember this one key note:there ought never be a situation where you have invitees to an hour or two hour long meeting who only speak for 5-10 minutes.

5) you don’t wrap with action items

every meeting you participate in should have some kind of outcome. there needs to be a list of action items for people to follow up on (with dates!). a meeting should persist even after it’s adjourned — otherwise what was the point? the organizer should always recap what just happened in a meeting, and always make sure that action items are assigned to someone before they leave the meeting. action items should also be reflected in the meeting minutes and at least somehow addressed in the agenda for the next meeting.

fix these five issues above, and you’ll no longer have people decrying meetings in twitter posts, facebook statuses, and instant messenger away messages. when used correctly, meetings are “actual work.” your best ideas should be created in meetings, and your best analysis should be done in meetings — if not, you’re misusing your time… and everybody else’s.