I wanted to share this post from Corporate Executive Board.
5 Meetings You’re Doing Wrong
Posted on 4 March 14 by Matt Hoffman Comment Email
When done well, meetings allow people to do their jobs more effectively. In practice, though, meetings rarely produce enough benefits to justify the time they take up, giving credence to the cynics who describe meetings as “the most frustrating exercises in pointlessness ever to have been invented.”
It doesn’t have to be this way. A recent Google Ventures presentation offered tips that startups and multinational corporations alike have been using to make meetings as pleasant—and productive—as possible. Below, we distill their insights about the five types of meetings that you’re probably doing wrong and suggest how to turn your situation around.
Meeting #1: The Brainstorming Session
You’re hoping to: Solve a tough problem with the knowledge and creativity of a diverse group of colleagues.
What goes wrong: Chaos ensues. One person has no idea what the meeting is about, so you spend the first ten minutes updating them. A few people dominate the conversation while others struggle to contribute or simply stay quiet. One person thinks they already know how to solve the problem and spends the entire meeting lobbying the group to go with their proposal.
Keep them small. Better to have three separate meetings with four people than one big meeting with twelve people.
Keep them scoped. It’s important to know what problem you’re there to solve, but it’s even more important to know what problems you aren’t there to solve. If you aren’t clear about that, someone will inevitably push the conversation to an inappropriately high altitude, e.g., “I know we’re here to build a database of customer advocates, but this discussion is bringing up fundamental issues with our CRM system we should discuss.” (That discussion may be worth having; a brainstorming session just isn’t the time for it.)
Designate a facilitator. It’s impossible to be deeply creative while also watching the clock and tracking group dynamics. Let the facilitator take care of ensuring that the meeting is running on schedule and that everyone is participating an appropriate amount.
Make sure you want a brainstorming session. If there’s a decision to be made, run it like a decision meeting (see below). “Brainstorming” meetings are often decision meetings in disguise; the person organizing the meeting wants to make a certain decision, but they also want to seem like a collaborative colleague, so they call the meeting a “brainstorming session.” Don’t let this happen.
Meeting #2: Decision Making
You’re hoping to: Make a decision based on evidence and your colleagues’ views.
What goes wrong: Gridlock. You spend time debating whether a decision needs to be made right now, you debate who actually deserves to be making the decision, and someone makes a plea to gather more evidence. In short, you spend remarkably little time debating the decision itself. If, despite all of this, you actually make a decision, those who disagree with it may sabotage the process by going along with the decision half-heartedly.
Decide on the decision ahead of time. A decision making meeting is not the place to debate the decision on the table, so decide this beforehand and include it in the agenda. Avoid weasely, vague language here. The meeting isn’t to “decide on a new organizational structure”; it’s to “decide whether to adopt the proposed reporting structure for global account managers.”
Decide on the decider ahead of time. Most people at a decision meeting should be reviewing the decision and offering their thoughts to the decider. Having a power struggle over who the decider is needlessly derails decision meetings. Determine the decider—or, if necessary, deciders—and explicitly state their identity in the agenda.
Make escalation okay. If someone really doesn’t like the decision a decider made, there should be a way to express that concern besides trying to stall the decision out. Encourage people with strong objections to escalate their concerns and bring in more senior colleagues rather than engaging in silent subterfuge.
Meeting #3: Update Meetings
You’re hoping to: Keep a group of people updated on each other’s workloads through weekly/bi-weekly meetings.
What goes wrong: Everybody mentally checks out; nothing valuable happens. Half of the attendees check their e-mail while a junior employee blathers on about his embellished accomplishments of the past week. The 200-word follow-up e-mail contains all of the information anyone could have gotten out of that hour long meeting.
Only have them when necessary. If all of the organization information could be sent out in an e-mail, just send it out in an e-mail. You can always call meetings when something substantial is happening.
Get team updates through stand-ups/e-mail snippets. A team can learn what everyone is up to without having an hour-long meeting. Consider Google’s “stand-ups”: ten-minute meetings where small teams of ~8 people stand in a circle and say what they accomplished yesterday, what they’re working on today, and what roadblocks they’re expecting that a colleague/manager could help them overcome. Prepare to be amazed by how quickly meetings end when everyone is standing rather than sitting. Alternatively, use a program like iDoneThis to send out a daily digest of what everyone has been up to. (E-mail snippets like this are particularly useful for remote teams.)
Sunset the meeting every four months. The calendar planners for update meetings are typically set to recur indefinitely, which allows the meeting to continue on long after everyone has realized that it is useless. If you decide to do an update meeting, make the planner end after four months. At that time, you can reexamine the meeting to make sure that it’s still necessary, that the right people are attending, that the current time still works for everyone, etcetera.
Meeting #4: One-on-Ones
You’re hoping to: Check in with your direct reports and preemptively address any performance concerns.
What goes wrong: The meeting is postponed again and again. Something more important comes up, so you keep canceling your one-on-one meeting until you have to deliver that official performance review. Or you keep your one-on-one meeting but spend the time dealing with an ongoing project rather than the higher-level issues you intended to discuss.
Just do them. One-on-ones are like preventative checkups with your doctor: they allow you to spot and address problems before they turn into something ugly. Even if you don’t think there’s anything pressing to discuss, have the meeting anyway. A conversation about sports can quickly morph into a discussion about a staffing issue or a lingering source of frustration.
Walk and talk. It’s difficult to be fully engaged in a conversation when you’re in a stuffy office or a dimly-lit conference room. If the weather permits, take a walk around the block or down to your neighborhood coffee shop. The change of scenery will open up the conversational floodgates.
Meeting #5: All Hands Meeting
You’re hoping to: Get your entire company to pay attention to something at the same time.
What goes wrong: People only pay attention when something major is happening: layoffs, a reorganization, new executive leadership, etcetera.
Increase the frequency and fun. Don’t just do quarterly presentations of financials and new strategic directions. Have these every week or two, paired with free snacks and drinks, budget permitting. Cover new products, humorous anecdotes, and success stories in a personal, approachable way.
Use video. You should be including time for Q&A, and Q&A over video is much more engaging that Q&A over a teleconference line.
Schedule during downtime. People won’t login to a webcast at 10 am on a Monday when they’re digging out of their e-mail inboxes. Try Friday afternoon or right before closing time.
What strategies have you found to be particularly effective in making your meetings more productive? Use the comments section below.