The Ever Elusive Great Meeting

11 Dec 2012

Life is what occurs between meetings. Most of us have days filled with meetings. I had a wise boss once who advised me nothing important happens in meetings - the important stuff happens in the pre meeting and the post meeting. Problem was I already had my day filled with the generic meetings.

Meetings used to be easy to identify because they took place in meeting rooms. Many still do, but often they also take place in the coffee shop, car, den, airport, airplane, and hotel. So if everyone is spending their day in meetings, then obviously we are all highly productive, right? Probably not - because the vast majority of meetings, in my opinion, are a waste of time.

It's not just my opinion. Meetings are an easy target to poke fun at - comic strips, sit-coms, even commercials. A punchline involving a pointless meeting is an easy laugh without much risk of offending anyone. So let's do something about it. Here's a great New Year's resolution suggestion: boost meeting productivity. Here are some best practices:

Level 1: Basic

  1. All meetings must have a stated purpose or agenda. This is a tough one for recurring meetings.
  2. Any action items or next steps get clearly identified, assigned, and tracked. Too often great ideas never make it out of the meeting.
  3. The meeting should have an end time. Ideally, and never book meetings for a full hour. No rambling, and no off-topic conversations - that's what water coolers (virtual or real) are for.
  4. Start on time. I prefer the carrot instead of the stick. On a summer day, hand out ice cream sandwiches to everyone on time. Throw away the rest.

Those are easy, yet often ignored, guidelines. Especially the end times. Most calendar software defaults to 30 or 60 minutes - thus each block gets filled with no travel time or coffee refills/unfills. I have an option set on my calendar that changes the default end times to :20 or :50. It's a nice option.

Want to go advanced?

Apple-ish Practices:

  1. DRI: Every project or task has a Directly Responsible Individual. Eliminate confusion about who needs to do what by clearly putting a name next to each item on the agenda.
  2. Invite and participate in debate and criticism. Jobs was famous for his criticism of ideas.

Google-ish Practices:

  1. Positive energy: "Yes, and..." not "No, but..."
  2. No more than 10 people in an interactive meeting.
  3. Decide, then meet. Don't put off important decisions while waiting for a meeting.

A personal rule is to give the meeting your full attention. We all have this insatiable desire to multi-task, even though we know we are not good at it. The laptop, desktop, phone, and tablet makes beg for attention with sounds and icons - stop checking email, Facebook, Twitter, and other things. Project the respect you expect.

What are your ideas?


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