The Modern Meeting – Don’t Hold It!

borrowed without permission from NYTimes - Charlie Mahoney, photographer

borrowed without permission from NYTimes – Charlie Mahoney, photographer

Friday’s NYTimes (12/4/2015) brought another article about meetings. This one, “The Modern Meeting: Call In, Turn Off, Tune Out” by Katie Hafner, takes on the virtual meeting facilitated by the mute button on your phone. The article, accompanied on the web by a slideshow of some guy doing yard work while at meetings, repeats the age old complaints of meetings that are not involving or engaging many of the participants. Some companies are insisting on videoconferences to provide more “accountability” for participants. There is sage advice about the use of the mute button and the dangers of video. I once appeared in my bathrobe for a meeting with some colleagues in India when I mistakenly hit the video button on a Skype call.

Triage Your Meetings

But all of this misses what should be the answer. Organizations, chiefly the leaders of organizations, must employ a clear meeting process with strict rules. This will lead to far fewer meetings with fewer attendees more actively engaged producing productive outcomes.

Before scheduling a meeting the organizer must answer in writing, sent to the attendees in advance of the meeting, the following questions:

  1. What is the purpose of the meeting? What needs to be decided and why?
  2. Do we have enough information to accomplish (1)? If NO, get the information first.
  3. Who needs to be at the meeting? Why do they need to be there? Do they have functional responsibility for the outcome? Resources critical to the outcome? Knowledge critical to the outcome? If none of these they should not be at the meeting.
  4. What do the attendees need to prepare in advance of the meeting? What is their homework? This should be done in writing and provided to all attendees before the meeting for review.
  5. Where will the meeting be held, when and for how long? Who will attend?

    If a meeting is scheduled for more than 45 to 60 minutes, alarm klaxons should sound. usually the answers to questions 1 – 4 were not accurate or robust enough.  No open ended meetings allowed.

Management Responsibility

Making meetings more productive is the responsibility of managers, especially the senior manager at any location. If you don’t practice good meeting skills, your subordinates will not challenge you or lead the way. Given the power relationship, no junior manager, engineer, or associate is going to ask you “Why am I attending this meeting? What are we expecting to accomplish?”. This means that the change in processes and culture must start at the top.

The great news is that if you lead the way, people will stampede to follow your example. No one likes these dumb meetings!!

Earlier notes about Meetings

I have written quite a bit about meetings over the years.

Here are a few to chew on: