How to Conduct a Meeting – Not


Learning how to conduct a meeting should be mandatory in all grade schools. Maybe if it was, we would eventually end the misery that occurs so often in organizations when someone calls an informational meeting.

Let’s see some common cases below.

Why don’t they just send everyone a memo?

Michelle, an account manager sits in her weekly staff meeting waiting to go home to spend time with her kids. One by one, her director reads out loud “important” announcements to her and six colleagues about recent policy changes. As she looks at the clock ticking away, minutes she could be playing with her daughters, it dawns on her: “Why didn’t they just e-mail me this information? Couldn’t I have read this on my iPhone during my train ride home?”

Was that live conference call really necessary?

The meeting leader talked for the entire 90 minutes about the status of the new e-commerce system that supposedly made website orders easier.  The content was so boring, no one dared ask any questions.

Ashwin listened to the call on speakerphone so both hands were free to do real work but since one ear was on the phone, he was only 1/3 as productive.

Frustrated by his own lack of productivity, he couldn’t help but ask himself an obvious question: “Is the only reason I’m on this call to avoid getting in trouble for not attending?   If there’s no meaningful dialogue taking place, why doesn’t the presenter just record himself speaking and send us the audio file?”

Why does the informational meeting still exist?

In an era of social media abundance, where so many rich methods of communication are everywhere (e-mail, recorded audio, recorded video, etc.) why are we still herding people together to hear policy updates? Meeting for the purpose of disseminating information is like washing your dishes with Evian water. It works, but it’s expensive and slightly ridiculous.

There are two reasons why these time stealing, soul draining info sessions still exist:

  1. Convenience. People have a strong aversion to writing. Sometimes it’s difficult to capture everything we want to say effectively in an e-mail or memo. So when information needs to be disseminated the temptation is to hold a meeting. It can feel easier.
  2. Fear. We’re afraid what we have to say won’t be heard otherwise. People also have a strong aversion to reading. We know from past experience that sometimes people tend to ignore our written communication. The logic for the recipient goes: “Well if it’s really important, I’m sure we’ll have a meeting about it.

This is silly. Is a memo that takes you twenty minutes to write worth saving nine people the hassle of watching you say it for half an hour? Is reading your e-mail worse than being stuck in a weekly staff meeting that bores you into a coma?

The Solution

Here’s the solution, a sacred pact: All informational meetings are hereby cancelled, but we must all commit to reading memos. If even a couple of people fail, the entire system of trust breaks down.

Can you imagine how much more time you’d have if informational meetings were abolished? How much real work could you get done, and how much bigger of a difference could you make in your organization?

Start a no informational meeting pledge in your office. Put it in writing and make everyone in the office sign it. If it works, and it just might, get ready to become the office hero.

How and why do you conduct a meeting? Do you have a story of a meeting gone ineffective or where a memo could have worked just fine?


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Al Pittampalli is a meeting culture warrior. His new book called Read This Before Our Next Meeting is published by the Domino Project and available on Amazon. You can find him at ModernMeetingStandard.com.

Discussion

  1. AJ Ogaard on the 19th August

    I agree with so much that I am not sure where to begin. I will sum it up this way “most meetings are a complete waste of time.” How is that? So many times I have sat in meetings and in the end nothing gets taken care of and all goes back to as it was. This should be more about finding the right way to communicate and truly have a blueprint that everyone understands.

    Have a goal and keep it simple.

  2. Juan Ignacio on the 20th August

    I desagree quite a lot in this article.

    Meeting is still very important. Communication is not only about word. People communicate a loooot more with their tone, hand, face gestures, etc.

    The social aspect of meeting in person is important as well. Most people in my office IM each other or call each other. When I have to talk with a coworker who is just 60 meters away I stand up walk over there and chat. There are studies everywhere that face to face contact is much better and people need some dose of it.

    If a person that has to communicate something important has to spend about half hour writing a memo and everyone else is going to spend 10 minutes to read it, maybe email some questions, have the first person to answer the same question to different people…. why not just get together???
    Everyone just spends 20 minutes, if there are questions everyone get the answer at the same time and there’s no need for updates. Plus you get sure everyone fully understood that pice of information and not just scan it trough and missed something.

    • Steve Prothero on the 28th August

      Yep think this is important and agree that it is not a hard and fast rule but we really do need to ask ourselves “is this meeting serving a real purpose and is it value”.

  3. Rob Hooft on the 21st August

    See also the book: “Read this before our next meeting” by Al Pittampalli.

  4. Kevin Burch on the 22nd August

    Lol, reading this makes me even more glad I don’t work in a conventional office or company. What a waste of time, energy and effort.

  5. Aura on the 23rd August

    I totally agree to the article. I’ve been in 2-4 hours meetings with no sense, and such a lost of time. (In some of them I thought “Do I need to listen to all of this… c’mon I have work to do!!)

    @Ignacio, I think the article is not against meetings (all kind of meetings) it empasizes those meetings you could replace via e-mail because they are just “informational”, where the most important part is only “reading”.

    As you said, meetings are still important. :)

  6. Vasu S on the 23rd August

    lol… Meetings I always hate them!! these days it turns to be a place for me reading tweets!! 😛

    Here is something similar! A good one to watch.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/jason_fried_why_work_doesn_t_happen_at_work.html

  7. Terry on the 23rd August

    These meetings are a waste. After working in a factory I prefer 5 min stand ups over conference room meetings. The act of standing keeps the talk short and to the point.

    • Steve Prothero on the 28th August

      Yep these used to be called SCRUM meetings and your right standing up makes meetings often more “to the point”.

  8. Steve Prothero on the 28th August

    Some of this is spot on – other bits not so sure. My view and experience is that meetings are important where the issue is sensitive (could be easily misunderstood) or relates to an issue where you really do need to see the whites of their eyes. I know there is some disagreement about what extent facial expression and being in a room with someone adds to communication but I do think it is important around KEY messages where you really need to be clear and there is that high risk of “damage” if the message or feedback is not received. On the other hand I have sat in a lot of useless meetings over the years. One way to get some sense in this is to for the person who called the meeting to quickly run around the room for feedback on the use of the meeting (and encourage the truth if she is a senior person calling the meeting).

  9. Ruben on the 9th September

    How about online tools like agreedo.com or lessmeeting.com?

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