Meetings, Meetings, Meetings

2016-04-20 16.05.46

Have I said, I hate Meetings?!   Here is what Dave Barry said about meetings — “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.”

Recently I compiled some information about how to improve meetings.    I think the number one thing you can do is carefully evaluate and protect everyone’s time and avoiding then unless it is the only way to effectively accomplish the purpose.

I’ve been in some great meetings with the Secretary of the Air Force, once with Dick Cheney in Afghanistan, with the Air Force Chief of Staff during the 9-11 attacks, etc.    When in the Air Force, we loved Staff Meetings, and based on span of control, I often attended two or three staff meetings every day, yea!   You had to have the prep meeting (with the staff) for the prep meeting (with my peers) for the actual meeting (with the boss) [my usual statement, “Sir, I’ll have to get back to you on that one.”]  and the review meeting (with the staff).   That was about 3 hours every day.    Thank God we didn’t have iphones or facebook!

Anyway, I’ve compiled some thoughts, techniques, and considerations for holding meetings.   I stole them from Forbes, HBR, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Tom LaForce’s book (Meeting Hero), and the Bazillion meetings I have attended.   I’d love to get your feedback or additional consideration in the comments below.

Here are a couple Metaphor’s Tom used to describe meetings:

  1.  A Meeting is a Machine of Production, needs quality inputs, process of work, quality output
  2.  A Meeting is a Play – needs to be well-written, rehearsed, transformative, interesting, and end with an ovation
  3.  A Meeting is a Expedition – People working together to overcome difficulty in achieving a common destination.

A few statistics:

  • Employees average over 62 meetings per month
  • Executives spend 40 to 50% of their time in meetings
  • 33.9% of all meetings are wasted time for attendees
Executive Summary:
Meetings need clear intention and purpose
Meetings need to respect time and resources
Meetings need active engagement & collaboration
Meetings exist to drive action
Types of meetings:
  1. Staff Meetings – share common information at a single time/space – General McCrystal joint call to 6000 special ops troops weekly
  2. Informational Meeting – should be avoided if information can be disseminated and sent another way, might be used when information causes emotional impact or requires clarification of expectations
  3. Creative Meeting – Seeks collaboration of knowledge, experience, judgment and ideas.
  4. Executive Decisions – Courses of Action are announced or determined.
  5. Legislation of Responsibilities – Confirm decisions, decipher responsibilities & assign accountability
  6. Coffee Meetings – Youch! – Meeting to see about common possibilities, sales, investment, networking, etc…
  7. Roll-Call – Meetings for camaraderie or story-telling, chance to pass lessons informally
  8. Huddles – Quick standing meetings to focus group on a task
Direct Meetings:   (Cut to the Chase) – 2 Slides
  1. What is this about?
  2. What decision do you want me to make?
Assign Roles
  1. Leader – Drives Agenda & Discussion
  2. Facilitator – Manages Energy and Ensures Focus (Purpose & People)
  3. Notetaker – Keeps Minutes, Holds Parking Lot, Tracks Action Items — Reviews all at end of meeting
  4. Time-Keeper – Informs Leader and Speakers of time limits
Possible Meeting Agreements (for example):
  • Say what you are thinking
  • Ask the questions you want answered.
  • Put your concerns on the table. Raising them after the meeting isn’t helpful.
  • Consensus means everyone is willing to support a decision. Consensus is the method by which we will make all important decisions.
  • Let others finish before jumping in on the discussion.
  • No side conversations.
  • Turn off all electronic devices, and if you need to use one, leave the room.
  • Stay on topic until it is finished.
  • Listen with an open mind.
  • Once a point has been made and recognized, there’s no need to repeat it.
  • Keep comments brief and to the point.
  • Use respectful body language and tone.
  • Raise concerns about the meeting process, if you have them.
  • Identify and challenge any assumption.
  • Test all decisions against its likely impact on the goal( s).
When evaluating holding a meeting you should consider the following costs:
  • Travel Expense + Travel Time + Lost Productivity + Actual time in meeting + Lost Cognitive Energy
  1. Determine attendees.   Try to limit around 7 for span of control.  Greater numbers start to impact the subtle clues and body language.    Also, as size grows, individual effort decreases, resulting in less engagement and participation.
    • You might consider the unique/special bias each member might be bringing (stove-pipe org perspective, personal bias, historical experience, cultural norms, etc)
  2. Send intention and agenda ahead.   Request thoughts and suggestions.   Publish final 24 hours prior to meeting.
    • Request each person provide expected outcome and three questions they wish answered
      • I know the meeting was successful when…
    • Meeting Agenda items:
      • Stage-Setting (10% time)
        • Welcome
        • Intention / Expected outcomes
        • Ground Rules
        • Introductions
        • Ice-breaker – warm-up
      • Meeting Issue (80%)
      • Wrap-up (10%)
        • Final Comments & Parking Lot
        • Minutes / Action Items
  3. Expected Time – try for no longer than 43 minutes – meetings will grow to fill time alloted, leave time for social & informal talk
  4. Potentially start meeting at an unusual time, create a little pre-meeting cognitive dissodance
  5. Review what would be make it a “successful meeting”
Meeting considerations:
  1. Set the tone by starting the meeting on time; and surprise people by finishing on time.   (CEO’s, CTO’s, and Founders are most often late to meetings)   Women are more often late than men (10% more & 16% later than their male counterparts).   However, Women attend 11% more meetings than men.)
  2. Share Expected Outcomes around room as meeting starts or as an ice-breaker
  3. Remember to ask questions or clarifications.   The answers always lie in the questions
  4. Give space to uncomfortable silence
  5. Set clear agreements (above)
  6. Consider Stand-up Meeting – I had to do this at the Pentagon (34% shorter than average meetings)
  7. Cold-Call people who are not participating, warn that this may happen.  Do this in a positive way, don’t embarrass someone an impact trust and safety.
  8. Be clear, authentic, and honest in communication; watch for side-swipes and passive aggressive hits when attendees are silently upset.
  9. Decision Fatigue – Meetings contribute to the limited amount of band-width or cognitive resources available.   Don’t overtax.
  10. Create a parking lot to hold ideas that are off-topic, revisit prior to end of meeting.
  11. Ensure everyone has a voice in the meeting.   Consider giving people quiet time for reflection.
  12. Give people time to socialize afterwards and connect on side issues.
  13. Make sure to send a quick summary of critical discussion and action items after meeting.
  14. Utilizing virtual meeting software like zoom or google hangouts with chat function to maximize participation & engagement
  15. End Meeting with a quick evaluation of “how that went”, to create ownership by group and positive completion
  16. Celebrate and leave time for informal discussions afterward
Watched the following video to truly understand virtual meeting challenges:
LaForce, Tom. Meeting Hero: Plan and Lead Engaging, Productive Meetings (Kindle Locations 1779-1780). Tom LaForce. Kindle Edition.
HBR Website
Forbes Website
Entrepreneur Magazine
A bazillion meetings I’ve attended