I found this piece on meetings this morning by John E. McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun. It is a very funny take on the stereotypical caricatures found around a meeting table. Sad to say his description is all too true. And of course we love to denigrate meetings. Last week there was a piece on having all meetings standing up and in no more than 10 minutes. The number of gimmicks suggested to fix meetings is endless and in most cases- worthless.
Want to fix meetings? Functional meetings happen when functional people gather to do work and are willing to hold themselves and each other accountable. That is why they are so hard to find. Clear outcomes and a sold agenda are great tools- but unless the team is willing to agree on rules of engagement that foster open debate and honest disclosure- no real work happens. Sadly, like children who largely imitate what they have seen before, we tolerate the meeting characters that McIntyre describes and even become one.
I know, I know. This sounds like airy-fairy soft stuff. It is one of the hardest things I have to get teams to understand. Ground rules with teeth, self enforced with firm empathy make for productive working environments. If your approach to self governance is timid, so will be your working processes. Put the energy you direct into complaining and frustration into calling out the issues and getting everyone accountable.
There is really only one reason for a meeting- to debate, argue and explore possibility to either co-create work product or agree on a way forward. All the reporting can be done on line- but email is a poor forum for advocacy or decision making. Meetings are the best forum for public discourse and debate. Whether the team makes the decisions or there is a leader who is in charge, the debate provides a vehicle to understand the full extent and implications of an idea, challenge or opportunity.
One thing I can tell you for certain. Every time I have had an executive complain to me about a meeting he or she has to attend as poorly designed or run and a waste of time- I ask one question. “Have you said anything to the person who calls/ runs the meeting?” I am still waiting for the first “Yes”. When it comes to meeting culture- dysfunction sustains dysfunction- and usually creates sloppy results.