29 June 2009

Your Meetings Suck

But they don't have to.

(I don't mean your Annual Meeting, of course. If that sucks, you have MUCH bigger problems, particularly given current economic conditions. I mean those 2 hour snooze fests where 50% of your staff sits around the table in your conference room trying desperately to look interested, while one person blathers on and the other 50% thank The Powers That Be that they were spared attendance.)

A few of my favorite tips to help your meetings ROCK!
  • No informational meetings. I mean it! If you don't have questions to ask that require discussion to answer, send a memo. Send an email. Send a tweet. Send a gorilla-gram. But DO NOT send a meeting invitation!
  • Participants. Have the right people - and ONLY the right people - in the room. Do you have more than one representative per department involved? Unless there's something truly unique about their individual perspectives, don't invite both of them. Don't invite people just to cover your ass, or so their feelings won't be hurt. Their feelings will be MORE hurt by spending 30+ hours a week in meetings they didn't need to attend in the first place.
  • Agenda. Have one. Even if it's a regularly scheduled meeting. Especially if it's a regularly scheduled meeting, which tend to quickly devolve into informational meetings. In fact, if it's a regularly scheduled meeting and you have no agenda, cancel it. And if your agenda has more than about 3 items per hour of scheduled meeting, you need to cut back, because you will NOT get through everything. And think twice before scheduling a meeting that's more than 2 hours. People can't concentrate for that long.
  • Questions. Remember the no informational meetings rule? You should walk into any meeting with a list of questions you need the group you've gathered to discuss and, perhaps, answer. After all, if you're just conveying information, you sent a memo, right? And if you just need one person's thoughts, you went to that person and talked to her directly, right?
  • Listening. Who should do the majority of the talking? If you say, "Me Me Me! It's all about me!", review the above point. You're there to ask questions and facilitate discussion. That means less talking, more listening. And make sure you've asked someone you trust to take notes, because it's really hard to facilitate a discussion AND take good notes at the same time.
  • Action Items. Gathering a bunch of people in a room for an hour or two is expensive - salaries+benefits, snacks, opportunity costs. You better make damn sure that when you leave, everyone knows what her marching orders are and when they're supposed to be fulfilled. Sending a follow up email to all the meeting participants with "this is what we all agreed we'd do, this is who agreed to do each thing, and this is when we agreed it would be done by" earns you a gold star.
  • Good Human Treats. If all else fails, provide food and beverages (preferably caffeinated).
Got any favorite tips to convene like a rockstar? Share 'em in the comments.


3 comments:

Jamie Notter said...

Lencioni says meeting suck for two core reasons: (1) they lack drama/conflict (hence they are boring); and (2) they lack "contextual structure." Some tactical meetings start with NO agenda and you do a lightning round around the room to determine what immediate problems can be solved with the group convened. Strategic meetings are longer, cover fewer topics, and require extensive homework. Different contexts for convening people require different structures. All of this, of course, is completely aligned with your awesome post. But I'm a big fan of Lencioni's stuff so I thought I'd add it.

Jay Smethurst said...

Great points all around. Beyond asking and answering questions, though, a great use of a group of people is design. Get all of the stakeholders to a challenge in the room, and take them through a design process to explore options, build models and test their viability. Explore-Build-Test, Scan-Focus-Act, Design-Build-Use -- all are pretty simple design processes to use with groups.

And I am particularly fond of large, chocolate chip human treats.

Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE said...

@Jamie - will have to check out Lencioni - thanks for the heads up.

@Jay - agreed, group design can be a great use of bringing people together.