Meetings are increasingly common in today’s working day – and in spite of their bad reputation, they are necessary.  There are advocates in workplaces for no meetings, walking meetings, stand up meetings, 15 minute meetings.

In a research paper for Oklahoma State University, the authors (Ruomano N; Nunamaker J) explored the changing shape of meetings: 71% of executives survey agreed that they were spending more time in meetings than 5 years ago.  Managers, between scheduled and unscheduled meetings spent 69% of their day in meetings.

Thomas Kayser in his book Mining Group Gold wrote:

“A meeting is a gathering where people speak up, say nothing, and then all disagree.”

We have all participated (but hopefully not run!) a meeting like this.  This is not doing them right.

More than 50 years ago Erving Goffman in his paper Encounters: Two Studies In The Sociology Of Interaction was quite explicit in defining a meeting as that which “occurs when people effectively agree to sustain for a time a single focus of cognitive and visual attention.”

And I think that is the key to a great meeting – you can certainly put in place rules around a meeting – agendas, lengths of time, type of outcomes and so forth.  But a successful meeting is when the attendees have a SINGLE focus for a period of time.

In organisations where everyone is pulled in many directions and with competing priorities, it is often difficult to remain focused in a meeting, it is hard not to think about the emails you haven’t read, or those you have read, or surreptitiously read some on your phone.   It is difficult not to plan your next project conversation or exactly how late you can leave work to still make it to childcare before 6pm.  I am guilty of this myself.

So how do you get your attendees to focus?  I employ a meeting ‘reset’ tool that means people stop whatever they were thinking about when they came into the meeting and essentially re-focus.  I also like to make it fun.  And an opportunity for people to get to know a little more about their colleagues – this isn’t an icebreaker *shudder* – this is a reset, an opportunity to change gears and lanes.

  • Favourite social media platform and why
  • Which herb or spice do you believe best respresents your personality
  • Best meme of all time
  • Go to boardgame for a night in
  • Favourite logo at the moment
  • A movie that you wish was a musical

So this year, get the most out of your team and meetings by breaking their work focus so that they can re-focus on what you need from them in the meeting – start with a 5-10 minute reset.

What reset activities would you do at the start of meetings?