Meetings for a web person can be difficult because often times you’re in a room full of people who have no idea:
1) What you do.
2) How long it takes to do what you do.
3) Need something from you.
4) Want it faster than is often plausible.
5) Will often implore you to cut corners to deliver what they want.
6) But want it with the same quality that would take as long as it normally should.
I’m all about delivering to the customer, but even Amazon doesn’t offer “instant” shipping. There is a process. There are sometimes delays in every supplychain. But when we deal with human capital, we often ignore these details and step our foot on the gas harder in an effort to make them go faster. And it works, because people want to do a good job & don’t want to lose their jobs.
Let’s talk about meetings.
I’ve heard a lot “meetings are how we get things done,” a phrase that makes me cringe. It presupposes that the only way to do work is to get a bunch of people into a room and have them make decisions. This would be fine and ideal if that’s what happened. But in a place with a “culture of meetings,” isn’t as interested in decision-making, but rather than spending a lot of time talking in circles. When there is no cost to people’s time, you can simply schedule a meeting without regard for whether a meeting is actually necessary or not.
Early in my career, I had a boss who was one of my favorite people to work with. I just liked being around her, listening and learning from her. Years later, I’m still waxing poetic about her methods and ways, because she had a deftness with managing people and priorities the likes I haven’t seen much since. I assumed since it was my first job in higher ed, that all supervisors were this way. I’ve come to learn the opposite is true.
Here are three things I learned about meetings over the past few years:
1) Get to the point. Some of my best meetings were simply walking and talking affairs where someone important would be heading to a meeting. “I feel like we’re on west wing when you walk and brief me as I head to other meetings,” is what my boss used to say. What these walking meetings did for me was distill the facts down to a few things that needed to be communicated quickly. She did her part by asking the right questions. Even if we had to follow up later (as we often did) the foundation was set and it was far more useful than a late night email.
2) Everyone has a role to play. Rather than only focusing on the skill participants of every job, you have to assess what everyone’s role is and prepare them for that. Huge meetings where everyone has to participate and drone through an hour or more of information where only 10 or 15 minutes might be relevant to them isn’t always the way to go.
Sports are instructive in helping you understand that everybody has a position to play. When I coached HS tennis, it was often my bottom of the roster players who would make the most progress in a year. I learned this from my own experience as a bottom of the roster player on really good teams, that you need to nurture those players because the top players often want to work and get better — as they have something to aspire to. Whereas the players at the bottom don’t always feel like they have as much to play for.
Everyone has to attend practice, but during that practice they’re not always doing the same things. There’s value in shared experience and also good leadership practice to communicate how pieces of the puzzle can be relevant to everyone within the organization. But a meeting isn’t going to drive home that message by itself.
3. Keep (the meeting) small. I’ve been running meetings since the days of high school where I learned Roberts Rules of Order. Since those days, I’ve seen throughout professional life that not much has changed since those early days of leading meetings amongst high school and college debaters. You need order, but in grown up meetings everyone often feels entitled to speak. “Peacocking” where the need to show ones feathers is prevalent is one of the biggest reasons to keep meetings small, short and topical. In the era of communication overload, there are no shortage of ways to get together. But bringing 50 people to a room to discuss something they’ve only heard about once (or never) is not the way to introduce a new idea or to get maximum impact for whatever you’re trying to roll out.
How many times do big meetings end with “we’ll meet offline about this?” Exactly. Maybe you should start there, rather than begin there?
It’s all about communication. Meetings are meant to help us do the business of our companies, but we can’t do that if all we do is sit in rooms staring at each other (or our screens) for hours, dreaming about how to prioritize our time after all the meetings are done.
There needs to be balance, a flow & respect for the people who participate if you expect your meetings to achieve anything.