Permission to Leave That Meeting

Feldthoughts brings us a great list for meetings, repurposed from an Urban Airship employee wall posting:ChangeMeetingList

0. Do we really need to meet?

1. Schedule a start, not an end to your meeting – it’s over when it’s over, even if that’s just 5 minutes.

2. Be on time!

3. No multi-tasking … no device usage unless necessary for meeting

4. If you’re not getting anything out of the meeting, leave

5. Meetings are not for information sharing – that should be done before the meeting via email and/or agenda

6. Who really needs to be at this meeting?

7. Agree to action items, if any, at the conclusion of the meeting

8. Don’t feel bad about calling people out on any of the above; it’s the right thing to do.

Go to the Feldthoughts link and read the comments. This post produced an animated thoughtful and helpful stream of tips and perspectives.

Leveraging a list like this would be fantastic for change management. It would also be a great tool to experiment with under the cover of change work.

My take

I preach a rule (that rarely gets followed, but is always worth proselytizing): reports as deliverable, decisions/dialogue as meeting.

Using a meeting as a report-out is HUGE waste of time. For some reason it is a favorite pattern with project managers (I think that is because they are rewarded by task completed so any chance they have to show how much they checked off they take- it must have worked along the way because now it is an engrained pattern). An argument can be made that people do not look at those attached reports when sent. Fair (since there are also too many report-outs, another blog post). If they do not look at the report then maybe the report is not that important… to them.

In general

0. Deciding whether to meet should be automatic, but is not an easy choice (mostly because the organizer is usually intensely focused on the world from their perspective).

  1. I like the start time only… but do people just make sure all meetings start on the hour? I could see either lots of tardy attendees (from meetings that go forever) to lots of 5 minute meetings on the hour. A compromise is to make meetings shorter- between 20 and 45 minutes instead of an automatic hour.
  2. Good luck getting that one to work in certain countries. I say schedule all meetings less than an hour and be a little early. I learn lots with the questions I ask before meetings (and knowing that gets me there early).
  3. Lots of studies have shown that multi tasking just does not work. End of that discussion. Except… if you are multi tasking then the meeting is not important so move to number 4.
  4. Yes! Except that we would have to leave a LOT of meetings. As a change management practitioner pretty much every meeting will provide something valuable (we need background information to fulfill our roles). The only way the “leave the meeting” rule works is if everyone understands and the number of meetings gets reduced as a result. The more reduction the easier it is to follow the rule.
  5. Have agreed to this for a long time. You do have to create a structure where people read reports voluntarily or are punished if they do not. Don’t punish the reader before you go after the producers though.
  6. The CAN OF WORMS. It is much, much easier (especially with change that screams inclusive) to justify having someone at a meeting than not. The cost of these meetings is phenomenal though. I listened in on a report meeting (little dialogue, lots of things that needed to be tabled…hey there’s a word, tabled, as in “in person meetings over stuff on the table”) with 125 (!!!!) participants, almost all call in. Let’s err on the chintzy side and say each of those people made the equivalent of $60 hr… that report-of-the-report cost $7500 US. Did I mention these are usually weekly? $30,000 a month to cover tracks.
  7. Not every meeting HAS to have action items. Remember meetings should be for dialogue. Marching orders work perfect in bullet point lists with names on them sent separate from meetings. Meetings, remember, can also be for decisions though. That is when the action items will appear. Decide, create marching orders. A good use of a meeting.
  8. If you do not make it OK to use and question these rules (and question those who do not follow them) then it is just a set of rules that will never work. Change has to make sense. It has to make sense at the individual and functional level. This list could be a great pilot exercise for bigger behavior change.

One thing I would add is to question agendas.

They are a little “oxymoronic”. On the surface it makes sense to let people know what will happen and what is coming up. Dig deeper though and you realize agendas invite the multi tasking of #3, illustrate #6, invite #4 and fit better with #5. Plus, meetings that are TOO structured (or always structured exactly the same way with a templated approach) reduce dialogue, which then effects decision making (as in making it almost impossible).

Eight rules for meetings, care of the Urban Airship, with some horizontalchange twists and suggestions when dealing with change.

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