Have Focused Meetings by Knowing the Meeting Type

I just love meetings. … No, I don’t. I’m lying; I hate meetings. So many meetings seem like a waste of time.

Stever Robbins,
December 4, 2007
Episode #006

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First, call meetings to share information. This is a common use of meetings, and often a bad one. A dozen people get to interrupt their work flow to sit around and listen to irrelevant presentations, vainly hoping they’ll walk away with a single useful insight. My friend Caroline spends two hours a week in status meetings that have nothing to do with her. It’s utterly wasted time.

If you have information to share, first figure out who actually needs to know. If you don’t know, ask people. Say, “I need to let you all know the status of the bake sale. Who wants to be notified?” Then form an e-mail list for the discussion; there’s no need to to include everyone. For teams, use an electronic bulletin board or collaboration tool. You can post important information and team members can catch up when they have time.

Footnote: when e-mailing, don’t ever use BCC (blind carbon) unless the person you’re BCCing asked you to. Many people BCC their boss to cover their butts and show the boss that they did, indeed, send out the required information. I know you would never do this, but if you’re even tempted, don’t. If you’re really concerned about butt-covering, at least do it proudly. Write your boss a separate message saying “I told everyone to bring chocolate frosting and avocado to the company picnic.”

If you must have a meeting, find out which info is relevant to which participants. Make an agenda, and have people show up only for the part of the meeting they care about.

Meeting to Make Decisions

The second kind of meeting is for decision-making. Decision-making meetings can be a total horror show, since people can disagree with the goals of a decision, with the alternatives you’re choosing between, and with the criteria being used to choose. It’s really hard to sort all this out in one meeting.

In an ideal world, talk to each person one-on-one. Make sure they agree on the goals of the decision, the alternatives, the criteria, and (oh! This would be glorious!) maybe even the actual final choice. Then the meeting is just an announcement and review of the decision. If you can’t get that far in your pre-meetings, agree on goals and criteria, and then use the meeting to generate and winnow alternatives.

Meetings As Team Building Exercises


The third kind of meeting is for team-building. You usually hear this offered as an lame excuse by someone whose meetings are dreadful wastes of time. They say, “Gee, I know the status meeting seems to go on for hours, but it’s the only time we get together as a team.” Well, then, spare us. You don’t build teams through shared boredom. It doesn’t work that way. Those weekly why-are-we-all-sitting-here-anyway meetings do nothing for your team except give them a common target to unite against.


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