The State of Mind attendees are in when they show up at meetings has a lot to do with what they get out of those meetings.

“Do they show up fully present, prepared, and ready to go to work?” asks John Anderson, chief executive officer at Glowan Consulting Group, San Jose. “Or do they show up 10 minutes late from their last meeting or totally unprepared because their home life is a mess?”

The truth is that people are often distracted at meetings, and usually it's because of two things: One is their “life management” skills, and the other is the culture of the company.

Through its “Making Meetings Work” behavioral model, Glowan works with clients on how to eliminate these distractions so that the basic “rules of meeting management — start on time, end on time, manage tangents, stay on agenda — can be adhered to much more easily and more often,” explains Anderson. “The stuff we all know about but have so much difficulty practicing.”

Glowan's approach involves people looking at their own life management as well as their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors in the workplace. The assessments are arrived at through pre-workshop participant surveys and by asking participants to write down three things that each of their colleagues do well in meetings and three things they could improve upon. The perspectives are then discussed in pairs and later by the entire group.

“We get people to talk openly about this stuff — the crazy 14-year-old with the purple hair who's making us nuts and causing stress with our spouse,” he explains. “This is not group therapy. We're just talking about life as a part of work and work as a part of life, so they're integrated and not separated.”

One of his clients, a healthcare company, found that some of its physicians and healthcare workers were coming to meetings distracted because they worked long shifts and were dealing with stressful situations. This often carried over into their home lives and, subsequently, spilled over into meetings.

The solution was creating dialogue at home and work. “A lot of people said, ‘I need to have some conversations at home about the business I chose to be in and the impact of that on my family, and how we as a family can manage that more effectively.’” On the work front, the answer, in some cases, was as simple as informing co-workers up front that you're having a tough day and, in some cases, your attention may be compromised. “That allows people to rally around their colleague and say, ‘OK, everyone goes through that, so maybe we'll make the meeting shorter today.’”

Analyzing the Meetings, Too

At the same time, Glowan works with companies to try to figure out what it is about their meetings that creates distractions. For example, one company discovered that distractions were related to schedules. Many attendees had meetings back-to-back, so they were always showing up late. As a solution, the client created 15-minute windows to allow for setup, tear down, and arrival.

They also found that some meetings were unnecessary, others could be streamlined, and others didn't require the attendance of everyone. Instead, the company decided to take minutes during the meeting on a laptop and send them out to interested parties. Also, some managers were allowed to send representatives to the meeting instead of attending themselves.

“They looked at their meetings with the following question in mind: Does my presence add value to that meeting? If the answer was no, then there had to be another way,” says Anderson.

Glowan (www.glowan.com) usually works with management teams or small groups within a business unit. Glowan runs one full-day workshop followed by a half-day session in each of the next two months.