Endless Webmeetings? Start With the End in Mind

Last Updated Oct 15, 2010 2:00 PM EDT

Does it seem like your webmeetings last forever? The good news is, they don't. Nothing lasts forever (even the sun will eventually become a red giant and go supernova if you wait long enough) but sometimes it sure feels like you'll never be free.

As the team leader, you bear a great part of responsibility for the pain. Here are some ways to keep the meetings short, focused and create an environment where people know how to behave so things get done and people get their lives back.

  • If people don't know how long it will take, it seems to take forever. There are two reasons people might not know how long a meeting will take: either you don't tell them or, worse, you do tell them but it means absolutely nothing because your meetings always run longer than scheduled. Always tell people how long your meeting will take and what will be covered. Then stick to it. Over time,if you get a reputation for running a tight ship, people will respond accordingly. Unfortunately the reverse is also true. Bonus points for ending the meeting early if you've accomplished your goal.
  • Encourage participation, limit filibustering. As the leader it's your job to encourage input from the team. It's also your job to notice when the conversation starts to cover old ground and become repetitive. If it's obvious that the team is in agreement with a couple of exceptions, make sure you have ground rules for how to deal with that disagreement and don't let it drag everyone down. You will also have people you haven't heard from- make sure you get their input and limit input from those who are only too happy to share. Just because they're willing to contribute doesn't mean they make much of a contribution.
  • If they're actually busy, time will pass faster. One of the fascinating things about time is that if you're active and engaged it seems to zip past. If you're passively letting the meeting drone on participants will feel the strain. Encourage them to chat. Ask plenty of questions and vary the speakers. People reconnect with the meeting when voices change. Get used to facilitating the meeting rather than simply presenting.
  • Know where you're going, how to move forward and stop when you're there. As the meeting leader, you need to understand (and share with everyone) what the objective of the meeting is, recognize when you're straying from your purpose so you can get back on track, and close the meeting when the business is completed. Empower your people to keep you honest and let you know if things are drifting.
  • Don't tolerate time wasters. Webmeetings are rife with time wasting activities. Maybe someone doesn't have the latest version of the document you're discussing so you have to stop and email it to them and everyone waits while they get it. there's no need. Send all the information they need in plenty of time before the meeting, along with an agenda. Make sure they know where to find the documents (shared folders and files) and if they don't have them, don't holdup the meeting, just tell them to go get them and join you when they've got the right information. Many teams exhibit sloppy behavior because their leaders tolerate it and indulge laziness. Be tough but fair and they'll respond appropriately over time (you might have some uncomfortable moments between now and then but nothing comes easily).
Realize that your reputation as a meeting manager is built cumulatively. The first meeting may be the usual griping and muttering, but if you keep to time and reach your goals over and over, your team will become more focused and less stressed. You may even acquire a reputation as someone whose meetings are worth attending because things actually get done.

Really, it could happen.

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