Meetings Don’t Have to Suck

I’m not sure which people complain about more: meetings or status reports. I think the complaints about both come from the same place. Both tools are often misused, or at least poorly implemented. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

Last year, I wrote a post defending status reports. Now it is time to defend meetings.

If your work involves collaborating with someone else, you need some method to keep each other up to date. Once the number of people with whom you are collaborating passes about five, chances are you need some sort of meeting, even if that “meeting” takes place online in a chat tool like Slack. You’re going to need to come to agreements on how to proceed, and the most efficient way to do that is to all discuss the issue together… which is a meeting.

As  your group or organization grows bigger, you’ll probably discover that there are now multiple teams of people collaborating with each other, and that the work of one team can sometimes impact the work of another team. You might need to make decisions about which team’s goals get priority. To do that, you’ll want to understand the work of each team and how your decisions will impact each of them.

I do not know how someone can achieve these goals without meetings. I suppose you could shuttle around asking questions of all the people involved, iterating through until you uncover nothing that raises new questions for people to whom you’ve already spoken… but (1) that sounds like a bunch of loosely organized 1:1 meetings to me, and (2) that also sounds unbelievably inefficient for everyone involved.

This is not to say that I love every meeting I am in. Far from it. I have sat through my share of time-wasting meetings. But the problem is usually with the people in the meeting, and not the meeting itself. Blaming meetings for your organization’s inability to make good use of your time is like blaming a hammer for its role in the construction of an ugly house.

I think a large part of our troubles with meetings and status reports is that management is not easy but we like to pretend that it is. We turn people loose and let them run meetings with no training. Heck, sometimes we let them run entire teams with no training. After all, why should you need training in how to talk to people?

I am no different from anyone else in this regard. I certainly ran a bunch of meetings before anyone actually told me how to do it. My formal management training has been haphazard, to say the least. The difference is that at some point I noticed that things I did had large impacts on outcomes- of meetings, and of projects. I started filling in the gaps around my formal training with a mix of reading, observation, and experimentation.

I’m not inclined to obfuscate what I’ve learned to make it sound more impressive. Even my own husband will sometimes remark after we finish troubleshooting some management issue that my advice sounds “obvious.” So why did we need the troubleshooting session? Good management does seem obvious once you figure out which tool to apply to the task at hand, but sometimes, a little guidance in picking the tool and some pointers on how to use it can save you (and your colleagues!) a lot of time and aggravation.

What’s the secret to using your meetings to make your work life better, not worse? It is nothing obscure. Know what you’re trying to accomplish. Have an agenda. Know how to stick to the agenda. Document the outcomes. Sounds simple, right? It is… and it isn’t. That’s why I’ve decided to offer a one hour seminar about how to run better meetings. Meetings don’t have to suck. If your meetings feel like a waste of time, or just think they could be more productive than they are, sign up for the seminar. I’ll tell you what I’ve learned from more than 15 years of running meetings- at least 10 of them effectively!- and I’ll leave time at the end to troubleshoot attendees’ specific issues.

I’ve scaled this as a seminar and not a full-fledged class because, like a hammer, meetings are a fairly easy tool to understand and use. But, like a hammer, they can easily support you in doing some downright questionable things. Will you build something functional or a time-wasting maze for your team? It isn’t up to the hammer. It is all in how you use it.

One Comment

  1. […] Another really important thing a manager can do to build an inclusive culture is to work to avoid some of the seemingly neutral things that actually hurt some groups more than others. For instance, think about how you run your meetings, and how disagreements are handled. Do you have a discussion culture or an argument culture? I’ve written elsewhere about how an argument culture can be harder for some people to navigate than others. Also pay attention to who speaks in your meetings and who doesn’t. You don’t have to let meetings just happen. If you’re the boss, you’re implicitly in charge of the meeting, and you can make sure all voices get heard. Learn how to run a meeting well. […]

    February 19, 2016

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