We have all been to bad meetings. You know the ones: no agenda, no time limit as to when the meeting is to end, too much on the agenda, a vague agenda, and finally the impromptu meeting aka “let’s get some people together and talk about it…”
I read reams of articles about many people suffering from “death by meeting.” I 100% agree that meetings can be a bad thing, like when there are too many meetings or the meetings do not have purpose or the wrong people are at the meeting. All this being said, meetings are a highly effective tool of getting work done. For many organizations work is conducted through conversations. Think of meetings in a sporting analogy: meetings are the huddle in which the play is planned. After the huddle, the team breaks and executes the plan. Thus, a meeting can and should be a structured conversation with a purpose so when the team breaks (leaves the meeting) the play can be executed.
There are only three reasons to have a meeting:
- A meeting is called to make a decision
- A meeting is called to share/gather information
- A meeting is called to brainstorm options
Considering the sad state of our meeting culture, it is clear that many people do not seem to know what a meeting is for and/or understand how to manage the different types of meetings. If participants understood the purpose of the meeting and therefore the desired outcome of the meeting, there is a good chance meetings would get more effective and people would want to attend as opposed to dreading it.
So let’s dive into the three types:
A meeting is called to review alternatives and make a decision on a next action. Example: we have this situation and we need to decide the next step. Key stakeholders are brought in, a decision is made and everyone leaves the meeting cascading the decision. (Huddle, break, run the play.)
A meeting is called to share/gather information. Example: a project kickoff meeting. The decision has been made in another meeting to do the project; now the team is gathered to share the plan and gather key feedback to enhance the plan prior to executing. (Again: huddle, break, go run the play.)
A meeting is called because flushing out a direction is required and honest leaders know they do not know all the alternatives, and good leaders know that people closest to the work have the best solutions. Something needs to change or there is a need for new system or process but the organization doesn’t know what is best. A meeting is called to brainstorm ideas. If the brainstorming meeting goes well then someone in the meeting will be charged with documenting all the ideas and bringing them to a decision meeting. (Huddle, break, hand off.)
So what purpose have your last meetings had?
If you review the meetings you have been to lately, hopefully they fall into one of these three types. Where things often get messy is when a meeting tries to do too much. For instance, an information meeting that turns into a brainstorming meeting in which the participants leave frustrated because lots was talked about, certain items were not gotten too because the brainstorming went on too long, and no decision got made. Sound familiar? If this is happening and you are the chair, get your meetings back on track. If you are a participant, help your chair by suggesting getting the meeting back on track.
Getting the purpose of a meeting down is only the first step; clearly there are some essentials of running a successful meeting such as:
- Always have an agenda with clear definitions of meeting points (sent with enough advance notice to allow team members to prepare)
- Invite only the needed people
- Set a time limit
- Have a chair that can manage the meeting effectively and guide to the resolutions needed
- Ideally the chair is trained in “Robert’s Rules of Order” http://www.robertsrules.org/
But the above points are an entire other blog. You can wait for it to come out or find the Video Arts training video series “Meeting Bloody Meetings” (released in 1976 and followed up in 2012) with John Cleese. They are an excellent video series; they are entertaining and they alarmingly tell us that poorly run meetings have been around for a while and continue to plague us.
Understand the purpose of the meetings and you will have a better chance creating a desired outcome and that is a great place to start.