Can we just get this out of the way right off the bat?
If you actually like attending meetings, stop what you’re doing, and go check yourself into the nearest government-led organization. For the rest of us, meetings are a kind of pennance. Although Paul Graham wrote that he used to love meetings when he realized he was getting paid just as much to sit and do nothing as he got paid to write meaningful code.
Let’s talk about ways to make your meetings suck less.
Types of Meetings
There are two types of meetings we’ll discuss here:
Status meetings are where you (the meeting caller) read out the status of the project you’re all working on, and everyone nods. It’s a you-speaking-only meeting. There should be no surprises.
Collaboration meetings are targeted, brief meetings where you gather up the important decision-makers and give them the decisions that need to be made. Fork in the road type stuff.
The best trick I ever learned for holding status meetings was to do the sneakerwork ahead of time to get everyone’s status. This serves two purposes. One, there’s no surprises at the meeting. Two, if you have attendees who tend to blather a little, you can let them blather to you one-on-one, handle their concerns, etc, and then take the salient points to the status meeting.
Lots of projects require a weekly status meeting. The best way to keep status, I feel, is to keep a list of the higher-level tasks to be done, with committed dates they’ll be completed. (I’ll cover this in a post on running projects.) The status becomes read out and confirmation of the dates already agreed upon.
Make sure at your first ever kick-off meeting that you explain the way status meetings will work. Reinforce it at the beginning of every status meeting. Just say, “Okay, I’ve gone around and seen most of you. I’m just going to read down the list and you nod your heads. If there’s a problem with the list, see me after the meeting. Okay?” Nod your head. Get them to nod their heads.
STATUS MEETINGS SHOULD TAKE NO MORE THAN 30 MINUTES. I do mine in 15. 10 if I’m lucky.
It’d be great to imagine that everything runs smoothly on all projects all the time. It doesn’t. In those cases, sometimes it’s a matter of people not feeling in the loop. Other times, it’s a bunch of tough decisions that need to be made as a deadline draws near.
Collaboration meetings require one thing above all else: AN AGENDA. PUBLISHED. BEFORE THE MEETING.
Your thinking around Collaboration meetings should be this: We need to get ___ outcome or ____ decision by the end of this meeting. Put that in the agenda. Put it out there at the beginning of the meeting. People HATE meetings, but if they sense that you’re going to keep things tight to a purpose, you’ll see more buy in.
These meetings are for decisions and forks in the road, problems, and quick solutions. This shouldn’t be confused with brainstorming sessions and creative work. That’s a whole different game, and I’d defer you to a completely different master for that.
The key to collaborative meetings is getting people to stay focused. You, as facilitator, have the obligation of keeping things on track. No sidebar conversations. No cell phone interruptions. (I make this the first line of any agenda: please set Phasers to STUN.)
So, the trick as far as I’m concerned is to keep status meetings crisp read-outs, and to make collaboration meetings targeted events for group decision-making. I think this helps to make meetings suck less.
Does this cover the types of meetings you have at your organization? Email me and we can discuss your meetings and what we might do to make them suck less.
OR do you have the best meetings in the world? What makes them so great? Share!