Now, on to the big
topic: meetings. Why do we actually attend meetings? How do we make them less
"Why are you
letting other people put things on your calendar? The idea of a calendar as a
public fire hydrant for colleagues to mark is ludicrous. The time displayed on
your calendar belongs to you, not to them."
In short: Meeting's
suck. Let's get some more background. I've done a bit 'old dump of research.
I'll review the book chapters first, then some HBR wisdom (oldest to newest),
followed by other papers not otherwise sorted.
"Meetings," from the Managers desk
reference (no year or publisher apparently). It starts with the types of
meetings: staff, department, sales, team, special committees, task forces, and
projects. It also notes that initiatives like teamwork, employee involvement,
quality, and participatory management necessarily force meetings to occur.
There are a series
of pitfalls with business meetings:
- Participants are unaware of
the purpose of the meeting, specifically why it was called and what the
outcome should be.
- Participants are not given an
agenda detailing issues, items, or reports to be given.
- Leaders let meetings go
astray and off agenda.
- Meetings are tedious and
- Particular individuals take
over and dominate.
There is a taxonomy
for reasons why meetings occur:
- Obtaining information. Report
givers must be good presenters and listeners should question and provide
feedback. If there is no expectation or opportunity for feedback, there
should be no meeting.
- Decision making or problem
solving. Complex decisions may need consensus, deliberation, and a
recommendation or solution.
- Motivation. The outcome of
the meeting should be excitement and interaction.
- Innovation. Meetings can be
effective for generating new ideas.
- Announcements. Meetings are
good alternatives to memos. They afford visual demonstrations and provide
an opportunity to address questions and concerns.
The chapter goes on
to describe the characteristics of a good meeting:
- Participants feel like they
- Broad participation.
- Clear path of discussion,
shaped by a common purpose, agenda, and prepared participants.
- Managed conflicts.
- Both tasks and morale is
- The group has input in the
process of scheduling, operating, etc.
Leaders have a set
of responsibilities with appropriate meetings:
- Select the right attendees.
- Circulate a realistic agenda
(potentially a tentative agenda followed by a revised agenda). Set
expectations for how participants should prepare.
- Set the time and place.
Typically, Monday mornings, Friday afternoons, and immediately post-lunch
are bad as are rooms that are crowded, hot, or that have poor acoustics.
- Run a good meeting:
- Involve the attendees. The
leader should talk less than 25% of the time.
- Ask questions to stimulate
- Avoid input killers by
treating people as inferior, inexperienced, etc.
- Stay on track
- Give assignments
- Distribute minutes or notes
specialized types of meetings:
- Problem Solving:
- Describe the problem
- Discuss history, causes, and
- Suggest many possible
- Identify the best solution
- Make recommendations
- Present ideas as quickly as
- Don't explain ideas
- Don't evaluate or analyze
the ideas of others
- Build on the ideas of others
It also gives some
guidance on video conferencing that seems a bit dated.
Chapter 23 of the Concise handbook of management: "Making
I like the first
paragraph where it notes that meetings aren't simply about exchanging
information, "the purpose of business meetings is to be task-oriented."
following before calling a meeting:
- Is it necessary?
- Is there a purpose? Goals?
- Who should lead? Attend? Who
shouldn't be there?
- Is there enough material for
a complete agenda?
- Has there been sufficient
preparation? Participants should know what is expected.
- Are there sufficient tools in
- Will the meeting start and
end on time?
- Does everyone know expected
rules or procedures?
- How will the meeting be
- What kind of follow up is
The first chapter of
Planning successful meetings and events
might have some interesting information. It starts off with some perspective on
the role of the meeting coordinator and the necessary skills. It breaks down
some common meeting types, including:
- Board meetings
- Sales conference
- Management meeting
- Corporate retreat
- Awards ceremony
- Holiday party
- Annual meeting
- Product launch
- Incentive meetings
- General assembly/plenary
- Concurrent sessions
- Training sessions
- Team-building events
- Special events
It also provides a
list of common meeting purposes:
Much of the chapter
is devoted to large and/or formal meetings. It provides a valuable sample of a
definition of "meeting" is far bigger than the one that I'm pursuing.
I have a chapter
called "How do you manage meetings" from a 2006 book called Manage meetings positively… and it's not what
I need. Perhaps I was just looking at a sidebar. Let's see what's in the actual
Lots of repetition
from what I have seen:
- Decide if you need meeting.
Ensure that email or conference calls wouldn't be better.
- Plan: who to invite, relevant
information (including directions to the venue), contact details;
catering; delegate minute taking
- Prep the venue: tidy,
sufficient seating; flip chart, pens, etc.; power points; etc.
- Stay on track: begin on time;
welcomes; turn off mobiles; etc.
- Establish follow-up
accountability: agreed actions; who is responsible; deadlines; issues for
and date of next meeting
I have another
chapter called: "Chapter 5: Making decisions in meetings." It could
be from the same book… or not.
- Step 1: Decide what you want
the decision to achieve. Decision levels include:
- Step 2: Find the information
you need. The article recommends using the "thinking hats"
method of Edward de Bono:
- White hats -- focus on data,
look for gaps, trends, etc.
- Red hats -- use intuition
- Black hats -- look at
negatives and why something won't work
- Yellow hats -- take an
- Green hats -- brainstorm in
a creative, freewheeling way
- Blue hats -- control and
orchestrate the meeting
- Step 3: Outline alternatives
and consequences. Use force field analysis, pro/cons, SWOTs, etc.
- Step 4: Judge alternative by
your goals. Consider decision trees.
- Step 5: Decide and then
- Step 6: Review the
Now I have chapter 9
of World's Business Cultures:
"Meetings and negotiations." Not surprisingly, different cultures
have different standards with meetings. Japanese, for example, have many
attendees; Germans always use an agenda; etc. I'm sure there are exceptions to
all of these rules but some attention to differences could point to some best
- Always speak to the senior
decision-maker. They will be served tea first.
- Distinguish between meeting
types. German firms, for example, often explicitly distinguish between
information meetings, actions meetings, and brainstorming sessions.
- Agreement could be
appointment. The Japanese principle of nemawashi means that everyone must
The last book
chapter I have is from Action tools for
effective managers, Chapter 30, "Keeping meetings on track."
Sometimes people will simply shoot down and block the official agenda leading
to a stalemate. Unfortunately, it doesn't provide a lot of details beyond
emphasizing the agenda, levelling with those who might undermine the agenda,
and dealing with the hidden agenda up front and immediately.