Monday, July 13, 2015

Taking meetings -- books

Now, on to the big topic: meetings. Why do we actually attend meetings? How do we make them less painful?

And here's a great quote on meetings: "I’ve yet to see a résumé—and I hope I never do— that lists “attends meetings well” as a skill. Yet attending meetings ends up being a key component of many jobs. And it’s stupid." https://medium.com/@monteiro/the-chokehold-of-calendars-f70bb9221b36  Mike Monteiro

"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.

First up: "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:
  1. Participants are unaware of the purpose of the meeting, specifically why it was called and what the outcome should be.
  2. Participants are not given an agenda detailing issues, items, or reports to be given.
  3. Leaders let meetings go astray and off agenda.
  4. Meetings are tedious and long.
  5. Particular individuals take over and dominate.

There is a taxonomy for reasons why meetings occur:
  1. 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.
  2. Decision making or problem solving. Complex decisions may need consensus, deliberation, and a recommendation or solution.
  3. Motivation. The outcome of the meeting should be excitement and interaction.
  4. Innovation. Meetings can be effective for generating new ideas.
  5. 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:
  1. Participants feel like they belong.
  2. Broad participation.
  3. Clear path of discussion, shaped by a common purpose, agenda, and prepared participants.
  4. Managed conflicts.
  5. Both tasks and morale is considered.
  6. 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 discussion.
    • Avoid input killers by treating people as inferior, inexperienced, etc.
    • Stay on track
  • Summarize
  • Give assignments
  • Distribute minutes or notes

There are specialized types of meetings:
  • Problem Solving:
    • Describe the problem
    • Discuss history, causes, and effects
    • Suggest many possible solutions
    • Identify the best solution
    • Make recommendations
  • Brainstorming
    • Present ideas as quickly as possible
    • Don't explain ideas
    • Don't evaluate or analyze the ideas of others
    • Build on the ideas of others
    • Record

It also gives some guidance on video conferencing that seems a bit dated.

Chapter 23 of the Concise handbook of management: "Making meetings matter."

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."

Consider the following before calling a meeting:
  1. Is it necessary?
  2. Is there a purpose? Goals? Desired outcome?
  3. Who should lead? Attend? Who shouldn't be there?
  4. Is there enough material for a complete agenda?
  5. Has there been sufficient preparation? Participants should know what is expected.
  6. Are there sufficient tools in place?
  7. Will the meeting start and end on time?
  8. Does everyone know expected rules or procedures?
  9. How will the meeting be summarized?
  10. What kind of follow up is required?

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
  • Seminar
  • Workshop
  • Conference
  • Convention
  • Incentive meetings
  • General assembly/plenary
  • Concurrent sessions
  • Training sessions
  • Team-building events
  • Fund-raisers
  • 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 planning timeline:


Overall, this 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 chapter…

Lots of repetition from what I have seen:
  1. Decide if you need meeting. Ensure that email or conference calls wouldn't be better.
  2. Plan: who to invite, relevant information (including directions to the venue), contact details; catering; delegate minute taking
  3. Prep the venue: tidy, sufficient seating; flip chart, pens, etc.; power points; etc.
  4. Stay on track: begin on time; welcomes; turn off mobiles; etc.
  5. 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:
    • Strategic
    • Tactical
    • Operational
  • 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 and emotion
    • Black hats -- look at negatives and why something won't work
    • Yellow hats -- take an optimistic view
    • 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 implement
  • Step 6: Review the consequences

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 practices:
  • 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 agree.


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.

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