Season 2, Ep. 8: 7 Ways We Sabotage Meetings

Meetings are an essential part of everyone’s work experience. But unfortunately, many of us have come to view them as a necessary evil. They’re something we begrudgingly schedule on our calendars and then dread attending because they often seem unfocused, unnecessary and unhelpful. For leaders looking to boost organizational culture and performance, focusing on improving the way we do meetings can be a game-changer. Join us as Todd Mosetter and Daniel Harkavy sit down to discuss why our meetings can suck, and what leaders can do to make them great.

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Todd Mosetter (00:00)
Meetings. They’re part of everybody’s day. You’ve probably attended a few already today or you know, you’ve got some on your calendar tomorrow. According to some studies, there are between 11 million and 55 million meetings each and every day in the U.S. In fact U S employees average six hours per week in meetings. We spend so much time there, but the question is, are the meetings any good? Most people when they come out would rate meetings as poor as managers, as leaders, as organizations. Improving our meetings is one of the greatest opportunities we have to not only improve our culture but improve the results that we get.

For this episode of The Building Champions Podcast, we’re going to do something a little bit different. It’s my joy to sit down with Daniel Harkavy and we’re going to have a conversation about some common things that we’ve seen, trips some leaders up. Our focus is going to be why you make meetings suck and our goal is to help you a walk through some of those things to give you some tips and strategies to help you improve how you not only lead meetings but participate in meetings. Daniel, thanks for joining us

Daniel Harkavy (00:59)
Todd. It is great to be with you as always. You did a great job introducing and setting up the, the focus of our podcast, but I want to take the opportunity to introduce you as well. So Todd Mosetter, Vice President of Content as well as marketing for our firm, and he has really been the mastermind behind all of these podcasts. So this will be a fun one for us.

Todd Mosetter (01:21)
So if we think about it, studies can feel big, right? They can be huge numbers that they can be shocking, but they may not be personal. The one study we were talking about right before we started recording is that it’s estimated that U S companies waste approximately $230 billion a year on an effective meetings. Big number, big shock. But in the end, I think we’re moved by individual impact. What does that mean for me? What does that mean for my team? Daniel? When you’ve worked with companies, where have you seen the impact on their teams?

Daniel Harkavy (01:50)
Well, meetings, this is going to fall into our overall framework. So for most of you listening, you know that we believe self-leadership always precedes team leadership and team leadership always precedes organizational leadership. So I want you to think about this, how you show up in your meeting and engage with your team. The content that’s discussed in the meeting and the outcomes of the meeting are going to set the tone for how your leaders then move throughout the organization. So there’s a huge impact because if your meetings are energetic, they’re focused and you’re getting stuff done, people are being respected, they’re talking about the right things, and the conversations are productive, well then you have a team that goes out and positively infects the rest of the organization. If the team’s frustrating, confusing, wasteful we’re taking all these, you know, detours and it just causes people to dread them, well then they bring that energy. And they infect the rest of the organization and it really does have some significant downside implications on the overall organizations feel as well as performance.

Todd Mosetter (03:00)
I couldn’t agree more. I think one of the things that organizations struggle with is how many times have you heard people make comments about how ineffective their meetings are, how much of a waste of time they are? And it’s almost like the organizations have accepted bad meetings as an organizational norm. It’s just how meetings are. But like our friend Henry cloud likes to say, we as leaders are ridiculously in charge, right? So we are either creating or allowing everything that happens in our organization. So if our meetings suck, it starts with us as leaders, how we’re showing up, how we’re leading them. I thought a good idea for us is we’ve identified seven of the most common traps that we’ve seen. Teams fall into behaviors, if you will, that leaders and team members engage in that can really derail their meetings. And we have the opportunity to go through and talk about them. Number one, hogging.

Daniel Harkavy (03:49)
Yeah. So what we’ve seen in meetings is there will be individuals that will actually hog the floor. Meaning you put more value on what it is that you are saying, then you really should. So you hog all of the time and productive meetings with healthy teams are often filled with a lot of input. You’re listening, you’re questioning, you’re getting the thoughts of your team, you need your team’s perspective. You need to hear what they think and you need to create dynamic tension on the team. And if you as the leader hog the time or you allow somebody to always hog the time, you’ll actually shut other people down and you’ll miss the opportunity to hear the best potential solutions as well as you will miss people committing. Because if they’re not heard, they’re not going to commit. So hogging, make sure that you allocate the appropriate time, make sure you’re very self aware and that you’re not doing all of the yapping. And then if there’s somebody on the team that needs to be called out, you need to meet with them one on one and you need to just say, Hey, listen, you’ve got a vulnerability here. You’ve got a risk and a, you need to improve no more hugging and just tell him and tell him why you’re coaching them that way and, and help them through that.

Todd Mosetter (05:07)
I think two practical tips on top of those, which were great, were be okay with silence, right? I mean, as a team, sometimes people process differently. If there’s silence for a second, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Don’t feel the need to hop in and immediately fill that void. And you talked about that dynamic tension. You as either the leader or the teammate. If you see someone who hasn’t had a chance to contribute, give them a chance, give them the floor, call ’em out.

Daniel Harkavy (05:31)
That’s great. Absolutely. All right. The second common trap is war stories. Oftentimes in meetings you’ll be on a roll. You’ll be talking about something that is really important and somebody, it might be you or it might be another teammate. We’ll tell a story to back up their thinking for this situation and they’ll start to tell a war story. It’s like, yeah, well when we did this back in 1989 this is what happened. And the truth of the matter is all the details and all of the circumstances of 1989 are not true for today. And yeah, maybe it might add a little bit of color, but what it can do is it can take you off point and most teams don’t have this excess amount of time to where they can allow for those war stories. So if you yourself are telling a lot of war stories, it means you’re close minded, you need to be more open. Or if you have a teammate just like before in a teammate, just get stuck in, this is why we can’t and this is why it won’t and this is what happened before. And they always want to relive war stories. You need to say no, no war stories we’re talking about right here, right now, our situation, this current reality, this strategy that moves us forward and it’s going to lead us to reach our vision. So you got to put a cap on war stories.

Todd Mosetter (06:49)
We always talk about that current reality. A big piece of it is knowing the historical events that got us here, right? So there’s a place for that. But I think the nuance that you’re bringing up is key. Don’t allow what happened before to too heavily influence what’s going to happen today. You need to learn from it, but it shouldn’t hold you back.

Daniel Harkavy (07:07)
And I’ve seen it on teams where they’re just individuals who love to live in the past and they will always share war stories. And I’m going to give you a tip on how to help a team move through some of these traps in the moments ahead. So let’s move to a trap number three with bombs.

Todd Mosetter (07:23)
We never get this right. You always, always do this.

Daniel Harkavy (07:29)
Bombs take place when we move our focus from the situation, the problem, the opportunity, the work. And we go personal. When we go personal in nature and we start to question somebody intellect, we question their work ethic, we take them out, we throw a bomb at them and now we’ve just derailed the whole meeting.

Todd Mosetter (07:52)
I think the individual component there is key. I’ve seen teams do it as teams as well, right? Well of course we’re stuck. We never make a good decision. Well of of course we’re losing market share. We always are. So I think anytime we’re using those words, like you said, whether it be personal in nature or to the team, if you hear those adjectives, we always, we never, well of course those are bombs that are really gonna take people off course and no doubt.

Daniel Harkavy (08:17)
Raymond Gleason, a partner here at building champions years ago, he helped me when I first started doing executive retreats and he said, you know, you can have visuals drawn up and I’ve done this for numerous teams. You can have visuals drawn up and you walk everybody on the team through some of these traps and you actually have a picture of a bomb. You have a picture of a, a ship for a war story. You have a picture of a pig or a hog and you have these pictures and you can just hold them up and they will help to make light of it. But they will also remind the team to stay on track and not fall to any of these challenges that can just a team meeting.

Todd Mosetter (08:56)
Well, that idea will never work. That would be an example of number four going dark. Right? We have teammates who maybe in their goodness, they are trying to sharpen something. They’re trying to make it better. I know this is an area that I’ve tried to grow in as a leader myself. I have a natural ability to want to start to make something better, but when I do that, it tends to come off as maybe sharpening, maybe even negative to some people, depending on how my EEQ is in that moment, we often have an opportunity to start talking about why things won’t work and we don’t give the goodness of the conversation. The creativity, the brainstorming, the energy, the engagement going dark can shut a conversation or a team down very quickly.

Daniel Harkavy (09:37)
Yeah, so Edward de Bono in his fantastic book The Six Thinking Hats unpacks how most of us in Western culture are trained to attack problems. And what we do is we always play the devil’s advocate. There’s great value in us figuring out why things won’t work. But if we moved to that dark, that black hat, as DeBono says too early in the conversation than we do curtail any brainstorming, any creative thinking. So again, a lot of the work that we do with teams is we use those six thinking hats and it helps you to say, you know, that was a great black hat, but let’s now stay focused on yellow hat, logical, positive. Let’s just focus on why this idea or why there might be two or three other solutions, why it might make sense. And then you have a place for black cat by saying, then we’ll come back to the black hat in the moments ahead, but going dark too early, it just shuts a team down.

Todd Mosetter (10:34)
Number five, we see teams and leaders that end up just chasing their tails, right? Conversation is spent lots of time invested, but they ended up having the same conversation over and over and over again. Right? We keep adding to each other but not in a way that drives the conversation forward. Next thing we know half the meeting has been gone and we’ve talked about one thing.

Daniel Harkavy  (10:55)
Yeah. And that’s where you’re going to see teams that use meeting minutes and teams that review those meeting minutes prior to the meeting. They’re just more effective when we continue to come back to the same topic over and over and over again, which happens in far too many teams. Too often we need to drive to decision and a, it is a very common trap for us not to be clear on who’s making the decision and what’s the decision to be made. So it just kind of, we kick the, can we kick it down to next week and then we kick it down the next month and oftentimes be aware of this leaders. What you’ll do is you’ll kick the can down on the topics that are going to be just more volatile. There’s more at risk because maybe in the moment you don’t have the courage to rip the bandaid off and deal with it.

But the further you kick it down, all you’re doing is you’re prolonging the difficult conversation. And the longer that you do it, you actually are at risk of losing leadership. Because most of the time, everybody knows in the room we got to make this decision. When are we going to go ahead and dive in and someone’s going to be hurt and someone’s going to lose something and you know, somebody is going to gain something or it’s going to be in some way, shape or form difficult for us. That’s why we don’t want to deal with it. But the best leaders have the courage to just move right through it. Keep everybody focused on the mission. This is why we’re here. This isn’t personal and let’s make the best decision. Don’t kick the, can.

Todd Mosetter (12:19)
We go from a chasing our tails to running down rabbit trails.

Daniel Harkavy (12:24)
Yeah, so rabbit trails. Hey leaders stay on track and keep your teammates on track. We just don’t have the luxury of a ton of time. And you will see meeting effectiveness hurt when we allow the conversation to start off where we’re talking about the software and how it’s going to help us with reports. And the next thing you know, we’re talking about it with the customer and then we’re talking about customer engagement. And then we’re talking about the customer satisfaction surveys and 15 minutes later, you know, it can oftentimes be like a, a terrible fight between a husband and wife. He started off arguing about the toothpaste cap and the next thing you know you’re talking about how you didn’t show up on your, your anniversary trip and you know, you can just take these radical radical rabbit trails to where everybody in the room after 15 or 20 minutes is saying what? What are we even talking about and how do we get here? And meanwhile you just spent, you know, $7,000 of the company’s money focusing on something that you’re not going to drive to a decision on. It wasn’t the most important thing and it wasn’t what you had on the agenda. So be aware of that one.

Todd Mosetter (13:33)
This one is so key because sometimes the rabbit trails may actually unearth something that is worth talking about that is important. But make sure you do it in its right place. Right? So kind of end that conversations. Okay, so what we’ve identified as, we do really need to talk about X. When are we going to do it? Let’s get it on a future agenda. Decide who owns it. So don’t necessarily throw out the opportunity for that conversation, but make sure you’re framing it and doing it in the right place with the right people at the right time.

Daniel Harkavy (14:01)
Well, and I think what we can do too on that as we’ll unpack the purpose of meetings and the different types of meetings that you need to be having on a weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis, because you do need to have time for those creative rabbit trails. You know, maybe we’re talking strategy and we’re brainstorming again, but we’ll talk about types of meeting and then a best practice of putting those current topics that just get unearthed as a result of something like a rabbit trail. And how do we then not forget about it, but put it onto a meeting agenda and the appropriate meeting agenda. So we’ll talk about that when we get to some of our tips to overcome.

Todd Mosetter (14:36)
And we’re going to get to those tips in just a minute, but I’m going to steer us back to our seventh and final trap, which is in fact steering.

Daniel Harkavy (14:44)
So steering is when we come to a meeting, we’ve already got our mind made up, we show up and we have a topic on the agenda where it would be one that the team mates would naturally give input to, but instead of wanting to hear their input, because maybe their input is going to curb the momentum that we have or it’s going to shut our idea down we’ll steer and we will be strong and we will sell and we will limit input. And as a result of that, yeah, we may make a decision or we may think we’re gaining momentum, but the truth of matter is the meeting ends and our team, our executive team will go out and they’ll have water cooler conversations around why that idea will never work, why that strategy will not pay off and they won’t commit. So you really need to make sure that you are, again, engaging the team’s perspective and you’re comfortable enough with your team’s competence. You know, you, you have them as your leaders because they bring so much value and together through dynamic tension, again, in differing opinions, you can come up with the absolute best decision. The best leaders know that the best decision may not be the decision they would have made. It’s the decision that a few of their teammates come to.

Todd Mosetter (15:56)
So if we can agree that improving the effectiveness of our meetings is a great opportunity for almost every organization. And one of the best ways to improve our meetings is how we as individuals. And we as leaders show up, right? So we went through seven common traps, hogging war stories, bombs going dark, chasing our tails, rabbit trails and steering. If we can be more aware of these seven things and we’ve shared a couple of tips so far to help you as individuals, we want to put you in a position where you can actually make your meetings better, make them better immediately and make them better long-term. So we’re going to transition here and we’ve got a couple of best practices and tips that address not just these seven. They are what we have seen our successful clients and leaders use time and time again to improve their meetings.

Daniel Harkavy (16:50)
So I’m going to kick us off and I’m just going to hit you with the stewardship opportunity. No, your number, what investment is being made, every hour of your team coming together. We work with clients that, you know, maybe they’re meeting a, just from a salary perspective is 1500 bucks an hour. But then for some of our large organizations, some of our big global organizations, they can be spending on up to 20 $30,000 an hour just in salaries. So understand the stewardship aspect of this. If you’re gonna make that kind of investment, you’ve got to be crystal clear on your desired end result and your outcomes for every single meeting. What’s the purpose? Why is this agenda item on the agenda? Are you allocating enough time for it? If you don’t have real clarity around the meeting agenda and the content of the meeting agenda and the purpose of the discussion, if you don’t have clarity around that, you’re not going to be as effective as you can now. Now with that understand there are different reasons for having agenda items on your meeting agenda, so you want to be clear again, are we making a decision on agenda item number one, is it to inform? Is it to gain input? Do I need, do we need to discuss, do we need to bring attention to a certain situation? Be really clear on why that agenda item is there and what’s the desired and result and you’ll be more effective in how you lead your meetings.

Todd Mosetter (18:26)
It’s such a great tip. I think one additional item that you could add to that is have an owner for each of those as well. Right? I mean knowing clarity on what, whether it’s a decision or an informed, but too many meeting participants show up as spectators, right? It’s someone else’s agenda. I’m going to come, if I’m called on, I’ll participate. If you can assign an owner for each of those items and not always have it be the leader just because the leader is the one bringing the meeting together. Maybe crafting the agenda, the more buy in that you can get from team members and the more ownership that you can have throughout that team, they’re going to show up and engage at a much different level.

Daniel Harkavy (19:03)
You bet. You bet. And that’s good. So let’s continue to give tips around this. I think of a client that we coached, the firm was located in the UK and Dominique fornia a thank you because you taught me this, who has the D when we’re talking about owners for each of the agenda items and we’re talking about having clarity as to what the purpose of the, that discussion is going to be on the agenda. Be really clear on who’s making the decision and articulate that at the beginning of the conversation. All right folks, we need to make a decision here and on this one Todd’s going to make it, but he needs us to give input. He wants to share the why, the how. He’s going to listen to it and he’s going to make a decision before next Friday. The more clear we are on who has the D, which Dominique shared with me, the more effective we’ll be in our meetings.

Another tip is the more that you can get out there and pre-work, the more effective the meeting will be. So there are, are there things that the leaders need to read? Are there conversations that need to take place in advance of the meeting? So that we don’t have to waste a lot of time in the meeting doing fact giving and can we communicate some of the critical information via teams or via email so that we can engage in the real work that a team needs to engage in, which is discussion. It’s thinking. It’s challenging, it’s encouraging. That’s the power of the team.

Todd Mosetter (20:31)
The point you’re really hitting on there, which is key, is how can we prepare for a meeting ahead of time and you’ve touched on some of the logistical elements, right? Pre-Work, having the agenda clear, having an owner, having times here at building champions. We firmly, firmly believe that beliefs come before behaviors. Can you talk a little bit about maybe the pregame routine that you’ve seen effective leaders do as they even head into meetings?

Daniel Harkavy (20:55)
You bet. Yeah, so just last week, two different executives. That was a big part of our conversation is what’s your mindset before you go into meetings? Self-Leadership always precedes team leadership and this is what all of us has leaders are dealing with. We don’t have enough time to think. Most schedules are overbooked. Our email inboxes are far too full and we’re just having to respond and react. So thinking time is what’s being compressed and it’s being squeezed into the margins of our home life. Okay. When you think about athletes, they have a pregame routine to make sure that they’re going to show up and they’re going to be fully engaged in what matters most, their performance on the team in the game. Well, I want us as leaders to be looking at our meetings the same way, the meetings, the game we’re going to show up.

How do we best engage the best thinking from our teammates? So we need to be going through a pre meeting routine, knowing what’s the desired end result, what kind of energy my going to bring? Am I going to show up early? Am I going to engage people in natural conversation so that I can show them that I care about them? Can I be present? Am I in the meeting and focused on the topics even if the topics are not within my wheelhouse. So some of you aren’t the leaders of teams. You sit on teams bring more value in, engage in the topic around finance, even if you’re on it, if you’re on sales, engage in the conversation around it. Even though you’re in sales, a leadership teams needs to understand you’re responsible for the overall organization. So think beyond your scope of authority. Think beyond your expertise and make sure that you’re bringing your best. So you pregame, you think about how you’re going to show up, what you believe about the potential, the meeting, what you believe about your fellow teammates and the value that you bring to participating on that team. You’re there for a reason and you need to chime in and you need to be fully engaged.

Todd Mosetter (22:53)
We’ve touched on how to prepare for meetings, both mentally and with the agenda. We’ve talked about some great tips during the meeting. Before we end this episode, I think we should talk about how we end meetings, right? Too often you do all of the work and preparation. You do all of the work. Great conversation meeting just ends, right? What are some tips best practices have you’ve seen good teams on ending?

Daniel Harkavy (23:16)
Well, yeah, I think there’s been a lot of work on this and a total shout out to Patrick Lencioni and Death by Meeting. When you just think about meeting ends, really wrap it up. What did we decide on? Who’s doing what by when? What are we communicating to the rest of the organization? Build that time into your agenda. Make sure that you can do a recap. Make sure that meeting notes are being taken so that there’s clarity around what we decided who’s doing what, what your action plans are. Next steps are and who’s communicating what. If you end your meetings with that clarity, you have a much higher probability of not coming back to old topics, confusing the organization because leadership’s not clear on who’s doing what and what we decide on and what are we communicating. The more crisp you are and the end of your meeting, the better the overall organization will be.

Todd Mosetter (24:12)
If we think about meetings, they are a great, almost microcosm of your company’s culture, right? If you truly want to see your culture in action, you can look at a meetings. So two last kind of quick tips that come to my mind in that regard are technology.  Too many leaders come in distracted, right? They’re not focused on what’s happening, they’re not engaged, they’re not making eye to eye contact. It can seem kind of silly, but we as leaders need to think about are we multitasking or are we being engaged? Are we showing respect to our teammates in how we’re making eye contact, how we’re engaging? And the second is too many teams, they don’t respect each other’s time either in the meeting or the organization. How many times do you show up for a meeting and the last meeting isn’t finished and you get the little sign of, Oh, hold on, we just, we just need, we need one more minutes. And that may seem subtle, but over time that can really erode a culture.

Daniel Harkavy (25:05)
Yeah, I think those are, are great points, Todd. And they need to be hit on. I’ve watched teams where they have guest presenters come in, people that are leading the business. They’ll come in and they’ll give the update or they’ll pitch an idea or they’ll ask for input and you’ll see leaders on their phones not listening. And you know, these poor people have been preparing for a week. They go in for their 15 minutes and top leadership’s not paying attention and then they don’t get thanked. So they leave. Just feeling terrible. Remember how we engage in those meetings? We infect the rest of the organization. So are we infecting in a positive way or in a negative way? And those two tips, being on time, being aware, respecting one another as well as eye to eye, ear to ear listening, not looking at your screen. Good tips.

Todd Mosetter (25:55)
We have all been in good meetings. We have all been in bad meetings. One of the things we were talking about is as leaders, I think we grossly overestimate our ability to lead and facilitate great meetings. So one last encouragement would be if you are in charge of leading a meeting, take some time to assess how you’re doing. Think about some of the best practices. We shared some of the common traps that are up there. You set the tone for your organization. Are you preparing the right way? Are you putting your team in a position to be successful? If we think about the number of hours that each of us spend in meetings on the low end, we’re spending 20% of our weekend meetings. As you move up an organization that can be as much as 80% of your time in a meeting if they are not efficient, if they are not effective, if they are not driving your culture and your business, this is probably your opportunity.

Daniel Harkavy (26:46)
You know, Todd, I’m going to just finish out with a very real life story because as we’re sitting here talking about it, I think about when I was in my young twenties given my first opportunity to manage and lead a team and that’s when I started the Monday morning meeting routine here at building champions. Our teams come together every Monday morning at seven 30 for 23 plus years before that, for a decade when I was in the banking industry, I brought my team together every Monday morning at eight o’clock and I remember one of my teammates basically saying he didn’t want us to do Monday morning meetings anymore. And his reason for it was he said, they just suck. And what I did was I actually caved and I stopped doing Monday morning meetings and that a few months later we were having culture issues. We were starting to see silos.

We were starting to see a, you know, some challenges in between teammates. And I remember speaking to my CEO at the time and he asked me what did I change? And I told them I didn’t change anything. And then threw a few more questions. Know my leader at the time being cleanser all he said, no, Daniel, you had to change something. And what it was that I changed was no more Monday meetings and I made the wrong decision. If I would’ve just focused on making the meetings better, we would have been better. So of course I went back, I learned my lesson, and it’s something that I still wrestle with today is how can we make the absolute best meeting? It can be a game changer and it will impact your culture and your performance.

Todd Mosetter (28:16)
I hope this episode was enjoyable to you, a little bit different than what we normally do, but as always, if you head to building you can grab transcripts, any of the books or resources we mentioned will be there for you as well. While you’re there, we’d love a review, helps people find us and helps us do better. Daniel, thanks for taking time out for joining us. Hopefully you walk away both equipped and inspired to make your meetings great. And a big thank you to Lucian Green who helps with both the writing and research for all of these episodes, including this one, and Scott Higby, he’s down at Studio C Creative in San Diego. He does our production and makes us sound as great as we do.