Meeting Mayhem | How to hold meetings that don’t suck

Team, I could write a book on the evils of bad meetings – and for those of you who have connected with or followed me on LinkedIn, you’ve probably read enough to fill those first two chapters.

I’ve chosen to write my first book on other things (I’m fine with finally going to contract on a book – you know, freaked out, insecure, nervous, and emotional) but in the meantime, let’s talk about meetings. And let’s talk about how to hold meetings that don’t suck.

Conditions Check – Do I need this meeting?

I’ve been in a lot of great discussions, workshops, demos, and yes, even meetings. But I’ve also been in some really crappy ones.

Recently, Shopify started trying to discourage useless meetings with a tool that estimates the cost of employees’ time in the meeting. I would love to have this kind of a function. Recently, I sat in a hot mess of a meeting originally scheduled for 30 minutes that took 90 minutes and accomplished nothing. The person we were supposed to be providing answers to didn’t understand what they actually wanted, or our enterprise business practices, did a lot of pontificating on everything we said, teachback style.

I would love to tell that person, “Congratulations, you took 90 minutes of 22 very busy and somewhat senior people’s time with no results. That will be $3500 out of your budget.”

Contrast that with a small huddle we had with one of our senior leaders to demo an algorithm. We got some great guidance on how we can develop and integrate tools to help talent management in our branch, and achieved our specific goal for that meeting, to pitch and get approval for a concept to incorporate that algorithm into an upcoming branch board. That was 45 minutes well spent, and I’d happily carry that bill.

The difference between these two events was simply planning and prep. We were called blind into one meeting with a senior leader who could have made that meeting an email if he stopped long enough to think about the problem he wanted to solve to realize that he needed more understanding, and that in fact, it wasn’t in his lane to begin with. The other, we sent background information that the senior leader read ahead of time, figured out that we needed face-to-face discussion to demo the product, and set objectives for the meeting.

It’s easy to see which one of those meetings was time well spent. And that’s something we should care about, even if we aren’t directly footing the bill. Someone in your meeting paid for daycare. They paid for parking fees or their public transportation. They paid for gas and car insurance to get there. They may have paid for doggy daycare or a dog walker. They paid for the opportunity to come to you and do good work.

So do you really need a meeting, now that you know people are paying to come to work for you, even if you are paying them? Is the work they’re doing worth your money and theirs?

So how do I make it a good meeting?

STEP 1: Finish the statement, “This meeting will be successful if…”

I’m serious. My deputy at PACOM asked me that all the time when I was attending or hosting meetings and it made a world of difference. If I didn’t have a good answer, I didn’t go.

I’m still trying to apply that philosophy today. You should, too!

STEP 2: Ask yourself, “How do I measure my success here?”

Didn’t we just do that?

No, we set a goal for the meeting. Now how do we know we met that goal? How are you getting feedback about your meeting? If you’re not – come on, you have to get feedback. Launch a 1-2 question pulse check survey at least.

STEP 3: Ask yourself, “Do people know why they’re here?”

Did you publish the agenda, pre-work, readahead documents/homework, something to get people to come in with ideas – or to make sure that you’ve got the right people in the room?

Your time is too precious to just be reading the syllabus to people on day one of your class. Sometimes, you have to go over the ground rules up front (I often show a working group charter first thing just to remind people why they’re there and get them into the meeting headspace), but otherwise, make sure they prep, make sure they are supposed to be there, and make it count!

STEP 4: Ask yourself, “Are people contributing?”

Because if people log into your meeting and spend most of their time distracted by other business, they’re not getting the info they need and they’re not contributing the perspective you need. How are you creating an environment where your attendees can contribute to the purpose of your meeting?

Because this goes back to the “do I need this meeting?” question. If they’re just listening to you make a decision or converse, you’re now a podcast. These kinds of things can be recorded and posted for info, and better yet, transcribed into a searchable document. Saves you time posting meeting minutes, although a short executive summary is still really useful.

What other recommendations do you have for how to hold better meetings?

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