How NOT To Have Mind Numbing Office Meetings

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I’m listening to a half dozen people have a long and rambling meeting about their local parent teacher organization (PTO). I’m supposed to be blogging, but I find eavesdropping on this train wreck to be more interesting. Why? Because I think this is how most meetings seem to go in modern business, and I wish that people knew that there were other ways to accomplish things. Here are my ideas on how not to have mind-numbing office meetings.

Schedule for Brevity

One of my old bosses, Dan Carney, used to tell me to schedule meetings to be no more than 10 minutes. As project manager, he had me do all the running around outside of the meeting so that I could have individual conversations with the stakeholders in the pending meeting, and so that I could hear them at length outside the time frame of the meeting. This worked magical wonders, for three reasons:

  1. People knew the meetings would be brief so they showed up on time.
  2. People knew I’d done my homework, so they just nodded their heads at the right parts.
  3. People gave their best efforts to be on the “good” side of the updates at these meetings, because being “behind” or “delayed” or in an otherwise negative status really stands out in a 10 minute meeting.

If you think you can’t schedule meetings to be shorter than they are, you’ve never seen the President of the US’s schedule. Meetings don’t have to be 30 minutes, just because Outlook defaults to 30 minutes.

Keep Agendas Taut

What this PTO meeting is doing wrong is that they veered away from the agenda into other topics. If you don’t keep to the agenda, you’re asking for rambling and wandering. I’ve heard the same point raised seven times in the last 20 minutes. No one is disagreeing. They’re just not moving on because they don’t have an agenda that’s pointing them towards agreeing, disagreeing, and moving on.

Keep Meetings Report-Minded and Action-Driven

Meetings are read-outs of information, and/or they’re a place to agree upon decisions and actions. Discussions aren’t necessarily the goal of meetings. In fact, discussions are a perfect way to drown a meeting in conversation. The reason is simple: people aren’t prepared to debate at most meetings, and so they fall back on repetition and minutiae. By keeping meetings focused on decisions: new logo or stay with the old (for example), you’re pushing towards a better result.

Table Anything That Doesn’t Fit the Format

Never ever ever let someone else throw a mess into the meeting. Stay on top. Thank the person for raising the issue. Mention that you’ll put it into consideration for the next agenda. Handle it offline. Do whatever. But don’t handle topics that aren’t on agenda in the meeting “just because we’re gathered around.”

Meetings Aren’t Work

Meetings aren’t work. They’re what we do as a penance for not rolling along like clockwork. Sure there are some exceptions to that, but think about it. What are meetings at your company and with your culture? Most times, more often than not, meetings are what you do that keeps you from doing your real work.

Questions?

That’s all that’s on my agenda. You’re welcome to add your thoughts and feelings.

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  • http://panlilio.blogspot.com/ Victor Panlilio

    Meetings: the bane of the modern workplace. Mostly, the biggest time-wasters in any day. Avoid.

  • Pingback: How your meetings could be more like classes « Finite Attention Span

  • http://cashwithatrueconscience.com/rbblog Ryan Biddulph

    Hi Chris,

    I like the 10 min meeting idea. Think Parkinson’s Law: work expands to fill the time allotted for it. Shorten the time and get down to business.

    RB

  • http://cashwithatrueconscience.com/rbblog Ryan Biddulph

    Hi Chris,

    I like the 10 min meeting idea. Think Parkinson’s Law: work expands to fill the time allotted for it. Shorten the time and get down to business.

    RB

  • Rob F

    I seem to spend much time preparing documents to show in meetings that I don’t get the work done to then put in the presentation. Stupid corporate life is.

  • http://www.dogwalkblog.com/ Rufus Dogg

    We all seem to complain about meetings like this, but they continue. PTO, soccer club, band boosters, athletic associations, social clubs — all these organizations are like this and they won’t ever change because it is precisely the MEETING that gives value and validation to the people who run them and attend them. Really. You won’t find productive people at these meetings; they’ve all figured out how to just write a check and duck.

    As for company meetings, take a look at the people who run or actively participate in them. Same kind of personality. It is not the lack of knowledge on how to run a meeting; it is they are not getting enough validation in what they do 9-5. Fix the inadequate feelings and you fix the long, rambling meeting issues. Crappy meetings are just the symptom, not the disease.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      One way to NOT have that many meetings is not to belong. I’m not part of any of those organizations you mentioned. Now I know why. : )

      • http://twitter.com/susangiurleo susangiurleo

        I hear this!…now that my son is in 1st grade I want to help at school as a part of PTO, but in no way want to give evenings of my time to go to meetings! So, I’ll go to one, sign up for a year’s worth of volunteer assignments and do the rest via email :-).

        • http://www.danielmclark.com Daniel M. Clark

          That’s why I volunteered to build the website for the school’s PTA (what’s the difference between a PTA and a PTO anyway?) – it gives me a perfect excuse to never have to meet with anyone face-to-face except to show up once or twice a month to show off the changes to the site. “I did this, this, this and that. kthxbye.”I can bend the ear of the officers whenever I like, and don’t have to show up for the monthly meetings if I don’t feel like it because I know I can get all the same information in 3 minutes by phone later on. Perfect.

      • http://twitter.com/susangiurleo susangiurleo

        I hear this!…now that my son is in 1st grade I want to help at school as a part of PTO, but in no way want to give evenings of my time to go to meetings! So, I’ll go to one, sign up for a year’s worth of volunteer assignments and do the rest via email :-).

      • http://twitter.com/susangiurleo susangiurleo

        I hear this!…now that my son is in 1st grade I want to help at school as a part of PTO, but in no way want to give evenings of my time to go to meetings! So, I’ll go to one, sign up for a year’s worth of volunteer assignments and do the rest via email :-).

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      One way to NOT have that many meetings is not to belong. I’m not part of any of those organizations you mentioned. Now I know why. : )

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      One way to NOT have that many meetings is not to belong. I’m not part of any of those organizations you mentioned. Now I know why. : )

  • Anonymous

    i have to say i have a slightly different perspective on meetings.

    for me, they are ways to improve the non-process parts of the business. Most of what you describe above can be done by email but meetings are human/ face-to-face experiences so the benefit they bring to the organisation is in bonding and relationship norming.

    that can, as you say, lead to wandering off topic etc and wasting too much time, and that needs to be monitored and controlled, but it’s what you learn about the other people when you meet that you just can’t get on the phone or over email.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Interesting. So you use them for a bit of social anthropology. : )

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Interesting. So you use them for a bit of social anthropology. : )

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Interesting. So you use them for a bit of social anthropology. : )

  • http://jim.shamlin.com Jim Shamlin

    Good suggestions …. though I’d suggest the first question to ask should be “Is a meeting necessary at all?”

    In many instances, it’s just one person communicating information to a group (the organizer should have sent an e-mail) or a series of one-on-one conversations with everyone else in the group as a disinterested audience (the organizer should have had one-on-one conversations).

    There are very few instances I can think of where I’ve been fully engaged for the duration of a 30-minute meeting … and now that I consider it, a 30-minute meeting would be blessedly short (most are one or two hours in length, and half-day meetings are not uncommon).

    And what this adds up to is a whole lot of waste … a company is burning significant resources (salary dollars, the economic cost of not having those same people engaged in productive activities) having people sitting through meetings where there’s little to no value.

    Perhaps that angle would be more effective in getting management to question the “meeting” culture, support those of us who seek to avoid this time sink, and perhaps toss a few training dollars toward getting people to think before they send that invite.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      You’re absolutely right. I try NOT to do meetings as much as I can help it. : )

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      You’re absolutely right. I try NOT to do meetings as much as I can help it. : )

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      You’re absolutely right. I try NOT to do meetings as much as I can help it. : )

  • http://www.kevingainey.com Kevin Gainey

    I was eavesdropping on a meeting yesterday at a restaurant where a group was talking about how their competition had expanded into their area. They were done eating and they all looked scared as hell. There was no agenda and folks just kept reiterating the same, inane statements. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why someone wasn’t asking the obvious, action-focused question “what are our options and which one is our best response?”.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      It’s weird how no agenda=panic.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      It’s weird how no agenda=panic.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      It’s weird how no agenda=panic.

  • http://www.danieldecker.net Daniel Decker

    What’s ironic to me is that if you ask almost anyone about meetings they respond the same way. No one seems to like them, almost everyone complains about them not being productive and being a waste of time. Even the peeps who call the meetings chime in with similar thoughts….

    Why then do we keep having them and doing them the same old way? I just don’t get it. It’s like doing the same old thing and expecting different results. Doesn’t work and precisely why I decline a lot of meeting requests (unless I know they are action oriented and not simply a rehash of the last meeting where no one got anything done as a result).

    Great tips here. Forwarding them on to a few meeting callers.

  • http://www.danieldecker.net Daniel Decker

    What’s ironic to me is that if you ask almost anyone about meetings they respond the same way. No one seems to like them, almost everyone complains about them not being productive and being a waste of time. Even the peeps who call the meetings chime in with similar thoughts….

    Why then do we keep having them and doing them the same old way? I just don’t get it. It’s like doing the same old thing and expecting different results. Doesn’t work and precisely why I decline a lot of meeting requests (unless I know they are action oriented and not simply a rehash of the last meeting where no one got anything done as a result).

    Great tips here. Forwarding them on to a few meeting callers.

  • Sean Mcginnis

    Chris – Great post as always, and one near and dear to me.

    One of the best pieces of meeitng advice I ever heard involves two great tools. You mentioned one.

    1. Ensure the meeting organizer issues an agenda prior to the meeting. As the organizer of the meeting, it if your responsibility to run the meeting and to ensure all your participants are on point. An agenda is the easiest, most respectful and consistent way to ensure this.

    2. Ensure a comprehensive set of minutes are issued within 24 hours of the meeting. They can be handritten, or typed – e-mailed or dropped off. But without this record of what transpired in the meeting, its easy to let things devolve into meaningless drivel.

    May I offer one additional recommendation as well regarding timing/scheduling? If you must schedule a 30 or 60 minute meeting, schedule the meeting instead for 25 or 55 minutes, allowing your participants 5 minutes of travel time to reach their next meeting in a timely fashion. I’ve always wished these were the two default entries in Outlook. Of course, this pre-supposes you run a crisp meeting and end at the scheduled time….

  • Sean Mcginnis

    Chris – Great post as always, and one near and dear to me.

    One of the best pieces of meeitng advice I ever heard involves two great tools. You mentioned one.

    1. Ensure the meeting organizer issues an agenda prior to the meeting. As the organizer of the meeting, it if your responsibility to run the meeting and to ensure all your participants are on point. An agenda is the easiest, most respectful and consistent way to ensure this.

    2. Ensure a comprehensive set of minutes are issued within 24 hours of the meeting. They can be handritten, or typed – e-mailed or dropped off. But without this record of what transpired in the meeting, its easy to let things devolve into meaningless drivel.

    May I offer one additional recommendation as well regarding timing/scheduling? If you must schedule a 30 or 60 minute meeting, schedule the meeting instead for 25 or 55 minutes, allowing your participants 5 minutes of travel time to reach their next meeting in a timely fashion. I’ve always wished these were the two default entries in Outlook. Of course, this pre-supposes you run a crisp meeting and end at the scheduled time….

  • Sean Mcginnis

    Chris – Great post as always, and one near and dear to me.

    One of the best pieces of meeitng advice I ever heard involves two great tools. You mentioned one.

    1. Ensure the meeting organizer issues an agenda prior to the meeting. As the organizer of the meeting, it if your responsibility to run the meeting and to ensure all your participants are on point. An agenda is the easiest, most respectful and consistent way to ensure this.

    2. Ensure a comprehensive set of minutes are issued within 24 hours of the meeting. They can be handritten, or typed – e-mailed or dropped off. But without this record of what transpired in the meeting, its easy to let things devolve into meaningless drivel.

    May I offer one additional recommendation as well regarding timing/scheduling? If you must schedule a 30 or 60 minute meeting, schedule the meeting instead for 25 or 55 minutes, allowing your participants 5 minutes of travel time to reach their next meeting in a timely fashion. I’ve always wished these were the two default entries in Outlook. Of course, this pre-supposes you run a crisp meeting and end at the scheduled time….

  • http://reallifemadman.wordpress.com Marjorie Clayman

    OK, so given your last few posts about action and Bat Man, I was envisioning you putting on your superhero suit, jumping into the meeting, and saying, “Wait! You don’t have to meet this way!” From there, I wrote an entire comic book about a superhero named SupahMeeting.

    Then I realized you had in fact blogged about this. I am disappointed.

  • http://reallifemadman.wordpress.com Marjorie Clayman

    OK, so given your last few posts about action and Bat Man, I was envisioning you putting on your superhero suit, jumping into the meeting, and saying, “Wait! You don’t have to meet this way!” From there, I wrote an entire comic book about a superhero named SupahMeeting.

    Then I realized you had in fact blogged about this. I am disappointed.

  • http://reallifemadman.wordpress.com Marjorie Clayman

    OK, so given your last few posts about action and Bat Man, I was envisioning you putting on your superhero suit, jumping into the meeting, and saying, “Wait! You don’t have to meet this way!” From there, I wrote an entire comic book about a superhero named SupahMeeting.

    Then I realized you had in fact blogged about this. I am disappointed.

  • http://www.AbdulKarmach.com Abdul Karmach

    OK, so who just wasted your time in a meeting? ;)

    Seriously, though, great points. If I were to add one thing it would be to always leave 10 min at the end to:

    1. Record agreements / assertions made during the meeting and email to attendees
    2. Action items and responsible parties, including follow up meeting (if needed)

    This from 12 years of IT consulting and lots of LOOOONG meetings ;)

  • http://www.AbdulKarmach.com Abdul Karmach

    OK, so who just wasted your time in a meeting? ;)

    Seriously, though, great points. If I were to add one thing it would be to always leave 10 min at the end to:

    1. Record agreements / assertions made during the meeting and email to attendees
    2. Action items and responsible parties, including follow up meeting (if needed)

    This from 12 years of IT consulting and lots of LOOOONG meetings ;)

  • http://www.AbdulKarmach.com Abdul Karmach

    OK, so who just wasted your time in a meeting? ;)

    Seriously, though, great points. If I were to add one thing it would be to always leave 10 min at the end to:

    1. Record agreements / assertions made during the meeting and email to attendees
    2. Action items and responsible parties, including follow up meeting (if needed)

    This from 12 years of IT consulting and lots of LOOOONG meetings ;)

  • http://twitter.com/susangiurleo susangiurleo

    My husband is a project manager and has daily “stand up” meetings. Everyone meets in a quiet hallway and no one sits. Each person reports on their progress, he gives an overall update. Dismissed!

    • Anonymous

      Love the “stand-up” meeting susan.

    • Anonymous

      Love the “stand-up” meeting susan.

  • http://twitter.com/susangiurleo susangiurleo

    My husband is a project manager and has daily “stand up” meetings. Everyone meets in a quiet hallway and no one sits. Each person reports on their progress, he gives an overall update. Dismissed!

  • http://twitter.com/susangiurleo susangiurleo

    My husband is a project manager and has daily “stand up” meetings. Everyone meets in a quiet hallway and no one sits. Each person reports on their progress, he gives an overall update. Dismissed!

  • http://www.1955design.com/ David Zemens

    Dude. You are exactly correct. If only everyone would see it.

  • http://www.1955design.com/ David Zemens

    Dude. You are exactly correct. If only everyone would see it.

  • meznor

    I find that meetings work well when there’s a lack of technological savvy in the workplace. My generation hates meetings (I’m 26 years old), but meetings are the only way some people seem to function well. I’d prefer collaborating on a wiki, or even quick status updates via phone or email, but there’s nothing wrong with old fashioned face-to-face communicating. In fact, I find a good meeting reduces the amount of ambiguity and confusion around a task or project.

    That said, I’ve been to a few mind-numbing meetings, and they were usually so dreadful because of the level of complexity of the topic. There seems to be an unwritten and horrible rule that if a subject is complicated, you must schedule a 3-hour meeting. Instead, I think complex issues should require participants to do prior reading, and maybe reduce the meeting to one hour long or less. This goes to your point about being well prepared for a meeting, ie doing your homework.

    I disagree that meetings shouldn’t be open forums for conversation. Some of the most engaging and productive meetings I’ve been to were “drowned” in conversation. However, that should be clear going into the meeting so that participants know it’s more like a brainstorming session than a decision-making session. And, if you’re going to have an open forum as such, there should be a summary of next steps at the end, with responsibilities linked to people at the meeting. Then, follow up is necessary to make sure objectives/tasks are accomplished.

    Where I work, meetings seem to be useful… I’ve been to very few bad meetings. I’m not sure why some corporations fail so miserably at it.

    • http://www.AbdulKarmach.com Abdul Karmach

      Mez, I’m closer to your generation at 31 years old, but I was mentored by old schoolers. I agree with what you’re saying with some distinctions:

      1. I much prefer to COLLABORATE with wikis, forums, Sharepoint, etc.
      2. For intro presentations I like meetings, then take off-line to #1
      3. Meet to review what’s going on with #1, periodically (and respecting time)
      4. Meet for brainstorming (open forum) This is the BEST reason to meet, IMHO

      • meznor

        Totally agree on point 4, especially.

  • meznor

    I find that meetings work well when there’s a lack of technological savvy in the workplace. My generation hates meetings (I’m 26 years old), but meetings are the only way some people seem to function well. I’d prefer collaborating on a wiki, or even quick status updates via phone or email, but there’s nothing wrong with old fashioned face-to-face communicating. In fact, I find a good meeting reduces the amount of ambiguity and confusion around a task or project.

    That said, I’ve been to a few mind-numbing meetings, and they were usually so dreadful because of the level of complexity of the topic. There seems to be an unwritten and horrible rule that if a subject is complicated, you must schedule a 3-hour meeting. Instead, I think complex issues should require participants to do prior reading, and maybe reduce the meeting to one hour long or less. This goes to your point about being well prepared for a meeting, ie doing your homework.

    I disagree that meetings shouldn’t be open forums for conversation. Some of the most engaging and productive meetings I’ve been to were “drowned” in conversation. However, that should be clear going into the meeting so that participants know it’s more like a brainstorming session than a decision-making session. And, if you’re going to have an open forum as such, there should be a summary of next steps at the end, with responsibilities linked to people at the meeting. Then, follow up is necessary to make sure objectives/tasks are accomplished.

    Where I work, meetings seem to be useful… I’ve been to very few bad meetings. I’m not sure why some corporations fail so miserably at it.

  • Anne

    Sure seems spot-on to me!

  • Anne

    Sure seems spot-on to me!

  • http://twitter.com/JoeCascio Joe Cascio

    I’m always suspicious of any periodically scheduled meeting. The “weekly project meeting” is a definite no-no in my book. They’re usually called by someone who doesn’t do any of the real work to try to get people who are doing the real work to do it faster, which is generally futile anyway.

    • Sean McGinnis

      One of my favorite tactics is to revisit the driving purpose behind any standing, weekly meeting at least every 6 months. Why did we originally scheudle this meeting? Is it serving its intended purpose? How could we improve upon it? Should we kill it? Modify it? Change the participants? Clearly define the goals and objectives of the meeting?

      At a former positoin, we were able to improve upon and kill more than a few standing weekly update meetings as a result of this practice.

  • http://twitter.com/JoeCascio Joe Cascio

    I’m always suspicious of any periodically scheduled meeting. The “weekly project meeting” is a definite no-no in my book. They’re usually called by someone who doesn’t do any of the real work to try to get people who are doing the real work to do it faster, which is generally futile anyway.

  • http://www.techguerilla.com/ Matt Ridings – Techguerilla

    I rarely take issue with your posts Chris, but this is one of them. What you’re describing above isn’t a “badly run meeting”, it’s a “bad excuse to have a meeting”.

    If I’ve done all the “running around ahead of time” to let the others “speak at length” (which are just other words for ‘having a meeting’) so that I can then have them gather and “nod their heads” in the right places all I’ve actually done is waste more time. All that ahead of time spewing at length, and the behind the doors politicking for everyone to get what they want takes *more* time on average than a well run, well guided *discussion* to get to a conclusive action-item. If all I’m doing by having a 10 minute meeting is getting everyone to come together and state a foregone conclusion then why have that meeting at all?

    Lastly, the reason the post rubs me the wrong way is it brings up all the problems I used to bang my head on every day when doing ‘innovation culture’ consulting. Your description is a perfect example of what takes place with the solo individual (or politician on capitol hill) driving through their agenda by the “divide and conquer” method of separating the individuals involved in a decision, giving them the story each needs to hear to come around to your way of thinking, and then a quickie meeting to get them to give you your desired decision before any of them really understands the power-grab that you were actually undertaking. That’s “Enterprise Silo Training 101″.

    So my question to you is this. If these are the only kinds of meetings you have as an organization, exactly when and how do you arrive at the *best* solutions? How do you innovate? How do you ensure everyone gets the nuance involved in each others points of views that lead to those types of thinking? Do these types of meetings best serve the individual looking to get the decision they want or the corporation for which the decision is supposed to be improving?

    I find nothing efficient, effective, or of much value in meetings which didn’t need to happen in the first place. They are a great way for serving an individuals desire to get what they want without disclosing all the surrounding issues, or if you’re a project manager on an already defined project it can work, but outside of that I frankly don’t buy it.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

      Interesting. I like hearing your thoughts on this.

      Do you do your thinking in meetings? I don’t. I do my thinking in weird places, like the car, or while I’m working out, or all kinds of places. I then collaborate, but not in formal meetings. I collaborate outside of meetings.

      Maybe this is semantics? I only meet to get status handled, to make sure that everyone knows the lay of the land of a project, and that’s it. I collaborate outside of meetings. But then again, most of my big meeting experience was in situations where the lion’s share of employees worked in the same geographical region.

      Could that be part of it?

      • http://www.techguerilla.com/ Matt Ridings – Techguerilla

        I would say semantics are likely a big part of it. As Dave mentioned there are a lot of different ‘types’ of meetings. Like you, I do my thinking in weird places, but I *adjust* my thinking (collaboration in your lexicon?) when needed and that only comes about through dialog.

        Most of my meetings these days are around strategy development, culture instigation, etc. where the outcome is fuzzy vs. clearly defined (for obvious reasons). Because of that a lot of meeting time is dedicated to ‘understanding’ very nuanced concepts. The next step from those meetings is very often collaboration, which is really the only decision point reached. e.g. The ‘meeting’ shaped the problem, the ‘collaboration’ is meant to solve it.

        Hopefully that gives a little context to my POV, and as you say, perhaps it’s just semantics.

      • http://www.techguerilla.com/ Matt Ridings – Techguerilla

        I would say semantics are likely a big part of it. As Dave mentioned there are a lot of different ‘types’ of meetings. Like you, I do my thinking in weird places, but I *adjust* my thinking (collaboration in your lexicon?) when needed and that only comes about through dialog.

        Most of my meetings these days are around strategy development, culture instigation, etc. where the outcome is fuzzy vs. clearly defined (for obvious reasons). Because of that a lot of meeting time is dedicated to ‘understanding’ very nuanced concepts. The next step from those meetings is very often collaboration, which is really the only decision point reached. e.g. The ‘meeting’ shaped the problem, the ‘collaboration’ is meant to solve it.

        Hopefully that gives a little context to my POV, and as you say, perhaps it’s just semantics.

      • http://twitter.com/sarisignorelli sarisignorelli

        I think it might be semantics. I read your post with “staff” meeting as my frame of reference. “Creative” meetings in my world tend to be smaller brainstorming sessions. But they flow differently because there is typically one topic on the table and a variety of approaches at the table. (they also tend to be shorter and accomplish more) Staff meetings include a variety of topics that should have had outcomes to report on prior to the meeting. I don’t want to watch the decision process in a staff meeting, I want to hear about the decision.

      • Kristin

        Ten minutes to have people nod their heads at my fabulous ideas sounds to me like I have a big ego and no one else’s thoughts matter…but I agree on the thinking bit – I also do my thinking in very odd places (especially while hiking!), never in meetings. Meetings are good for discussing and tossing around ideas – but I often am put on the spot with “I know you have never heard of this before, but do you have any ideas on how we should use it?” – I rarely do. I need time to process my thoughts and research.

        Also, I have been in way too many meetings that get off track. Somewhere around the time of the thought train derailment, I discover that I am no longer paying attention to what we were supposed to be discussing, and am now thinking about where I will be jogging tonight or what I am going to have for dinner.

        I don’t know if ten minutes is long enough to have a productive meeting between more just a few people, but I wholeheartedly agree on the sticking to the agenda bit. What I don’t understand is why it never happens!

        What we could use are some tips on how to put the thought train back on the tracks when it does get derailed…without, of course, being blunt and upsetting the derailers!

    • http://twitter.com/JustJenFelice JustJenFelice

      Could not agree more. For me, what Chris is describing is how to streamline a bureaucratic, dictatorial business model where all participants have strictly defined boundaries for contribution. In that context, what he’s describing is perfect.

      However, when looking to innovate, brainstorm, or just maximize what people are capable of contributing, meetings and adequate time for those meetings are absolute necessities. There is no quicker way to squash innovation than to say “Ok, you have 10 minutes to come up with the next great idea – go!”.

    • http://twitter.com/JustJenFelice JustJenFelice

      Could not agree more. For me, what Chris is describing is how to streamline a bureaucratic, dictatorial business model where all participants have strictly defined boundaries for contribution. In that context, what he’s describing is perfect.

      However, when looking to innovate, brainstorm, or just maximize what people are capable of contributing, meetings and adequate time for those meetings are absolute necessities. There is no quicker way to squash innovation than to say “Ok, you have 10 minutes to come up with the next great idea – go!”.

  • http://www.techguerilla.com/ Matt Ridings – Techguerilla

    I rarely take issue with your posts Chris, but this is one of them. What you’re describing above isn’t a “badly run meeting”, it’s a “bad excuse to have a meeting”.

    If I’ve done all the “running around ahead of time” to let the others “speak at length” (which are just other words for ‘having a meeting’) so that I can then have them gather and “nod their heads” in the right places all I’ve actually done is waste more time. All that ahead of time spewing at length, and the behind the doors politicking for everyone to get what they want takes *more* time on average than a well run, well guided *discussion* to get to a conclusive action-item. If all I’m doing by having a 10 minute meeting is getting everyone to come together and state a foregone conclusion then why have that meeting at all?

    Lastly, the reason the post rubs me the wrong way is it brings up all the problems I used to bang my head on every day when doing ‘innovation culture’ consulting. Your description is a perfect example of what takes place with the solo individual (or politician on capitol hill) driving through their agenda by the “divide and conquer” method of separating the individuals involved in a decision, giving them the story each needs to hear to come around to your way of thinking, and then a quickie meeting to get them to give you your desired decision before any of them really understands the power-grab that you were actually undertaking. That’s “Enterprise Silo Training 101″.

    So my question to you is this. If these are the only kinds of meetings you have as an organization, exactly when and how do you arrive at the *best* solutions? How do you innovate? How do you ensure everyone gets the nuance involved in each others points of views that lead to those types of thinking? Do these types of meetings best serve the individual looking to get the decision they want or the corporation for which the decision is supposed to be improving?

    I find nothing efficient, effective, or of much value in meetings which didn’t need to happen in the first place. They are a great way for serving an individuals desire to get what they want without disclosing all the surrounding issues, or if you’re a project manager on an already defined project it can work, but outside of that I frankly don’t buy it.

  • http://blog.webconsuls.com/ Judy Helfand

    Chris,
    I have known some employees/workers who just love meetings. You know why? You can easily fill up your whole “workday” with meetings and not open your brain or your mouth. I promised on Twitter that I would give you a couple of funny meeting anecdotes, so here you go.

    I was a banker for many years. In the old days, many banks were required to have standing committee meetings for things like commercial loan applications, directors and officers, etc. One day I realized that I was going to be in three consecutive meetings with just a 30 minute lunch break. It was a cold winter day in northern New Hampshire (Littleton). The meeting room was cold and uncomfortable. So during the break I walked across Main St into a wonderful store and purchased a Lanz of Salzburg flannel nightgown. I went back to the bank, put the nightgown on over my wool business suit, walked into the empty room and waited. The rest of the “committee” arrived and it took 20 minutes before the bank President looked at me and started to crack up with laughter. I told him I was preparing for a long cold day into night. The meeting was wrapped up quickly.

    Many years later I was working as a Senior Business Analyst on a high profile project for a casualty and property insurance company. The CTO was directly in charge of this project, even though there was a “project manager.” The CTO had a habit of answering many direct questions by saying: “We’ll see.” I must add that when we had our weekly project meeting on Friday mornings we each had name cards, so one day I created a name card with the name “Will Cee” and placed it at the chair next to mine. The meeting started and about 15 minutes into the “agenda” the CTO asked if Will was coming to the meeting, to which I responded “We’ll see!”

    Talk to you soon.
    Judy

  • http://www.dougmcisaac.com dougmcisaac

    There is nothing more painful than being in a meeting that meanders all over the place. I had a CEO who would spend hours discussing the most minute details and would literally spend thousands of dollars in time to discuss issues that only cost the company a couple of hundred bucks to fix. Drove me insane.

    My motto on managing – hire good people, give them good clear objectives, get out of their way. If you must have several people in a meeting to facilitate everything moving forward faster then make sure you have a clear agenda with goals and outcomes and then stick to that agenda.

  • http://www.dougmcisaac.com dougmcisaac

    There is nothing more painful than being in a meeting that meanders all over the place. I had a CEO who would spend hours discussing the most minute details and would literally spend thousands of dollars in time to discuss issues that only cost the company a couple of hundred bucks to fix. Drove me insane.

    My motto on managing – hire good people, give them good clear objectives, get out of their way. If you must have several people in a meeting to facilitate everything moving forward faster then make sure you have a clear agenda with goals and outcomes and then stick to that agenda.

  • Anonymous

    Meetings are destructive within itself. They delay or stagnate innovation. Communication, collaboration and engagement should take place between co-workers everyday without management intervention or control. If your knowledge workers aren’t solving their own problems then maybe you’ve hired the wrong people? I’ve been fortunate to have been given the tools to find such people. When you discover a “genius” working for you, don’t let them go – then go find more “genius” kw’s to fill the gap.

  • Anonymous

    Meetings are destructive within itself. They delay or stagnate innovation. Communication, collaboration and engagement should take place between co-workers everyday without management intervention or control. If your knowledge workers aren’t solving their own problems then maybe you’ve hired the wrong people? I’ve been fortunate to have been given the tools to find such people. When you discover a “genius” working for you, don’t let them go – then go find more “genius” kw’s to fill the gap.

  • Dave Gray

    Jeez, look at all the comments! I think the reason for the meeting makes a big difference. Meetings generally are for one of the following: information sharing, status updates, sales call, strategy development, or idea generation. ALL meetings also involve social grooming in some way. Each should be designed and run differently.

    I’m wary of standing meetings. Once they are on the calendar they tend to stay there long beyond their need has been served. Before you know it you have meeting kudzu.

    Stand-up meetings, on the other hand, are great for update meetings. Like the ten-minute meeting they encourage brevity

    • Anonymous

      Dave, I agree that having a good reason for a meeting is key, but I’d rather have five 10 min. stand-up meetings during the week if all that needs to be discussed is short term projects, goals or objectives. However, if you have a leader who’s strength is long-term thinking AND they can convey that message in an engaging way, then let’s have that “meeting” once a month to stay on target.

  • Dave Gray

    Jeez, look at all the comments! I think the reason for the meeting makes a big difference. Meetings generally are for one of the following: information sharing, status updates, sales call, strategy development, or idea generation. ALL meetings also involve social grooming in some way. Each should be designed and run differently.

    I’m wary of standing meetings. Once they are on the calendar they tend to stay there long beyond their need has been served. Before you know it you have meeting kudzu.

    Stand-up meetings, on the other hand, are great for update meetings. Like the ten-minute meeting they encourage brevity

  • http://www.lexalytics.com Carl Lambrecht

    A few people commented here about preferring wikis or email or Sharepoint to meetings. Big benefit of those communication channels; written record. Your point about keeping meetings report-minded and action-driven speaks to this. The output of a meeting, IMHO, should be specific actions that people are committed to taking.

    I mostly agree with your point about not handling items that aren’t on the agenda. However, one of my personal peeves is the phrase “let’s take that offline”. Too often it’s just used as an excuse not to discuss a topic, and it lingers as a loose end. It really needs to be followed up with an action item for specific people to address that topic, either through a task or a separate meeting with a more appropriate agenda for that topic. (oh dear lord, we’re having meetings to schedule other meetings ;) )

    Great post as always, Chris. Thanks!

  • http://geoffreywebb.wordpress.com/ Geoff Webb

    I think there’s an aspect to meetings that’s conspicuously missing from this post & the comments so far: community. I’m all for getting things done, but where I work there’s a human element to meetings as well.

    Many of us spend a lot of time on the road and workshifting. As a result, when we get together in person, not only are we making decisions and assigning tasks, but we’re enjoying each other as well. We swap success stories, share lessons learned, and lift each other up.

    Without this encouragement together, we’d surely burn-out individually while we’re out trying to help others make the human connection in business. So, while all these ideas are great (they really are), don’t forget that there may be more to effective meetings than just efficiency.

    • http://www.azreg.com Alex Casteel

      I agree, Geoff. As the owner of a small real estate brokerage, we work with independent contractors who work from home. As a result, having a time to build comradery is important…but it’s also a part of our agenda.

  • http://www.HabitofThought.com Mary Anne Shew

    I disagree with you about meetings being penance, not work, Chris. People say goals, meetings, managing a calendar, having good to-do lists don’t work and are as a waste of time. When tools are not used properly, people dismiss and throw out the tool rather than take the time to learn how to use it the right way.

    In the late 80s, David Kearns, Xerox CEO, rolled out Leadership Through Quality to beat back Japanese competition. One of the main LTQ tools was how to run a meeting. (And Xerox had lots of meetings…) The rules included requiring an agenda and pre-read material to be sent out a week in advance, pre-assigned meeting roles (facilitator, timekeeper, scribe), and using the Interactive Skills we had all been taught (initiating, reacting, clarifying) during the discussions (both inside and outside meetings). There were even rules to make sure every conference room was well-stocked with easel pads, pens, dry-erase pens, erasers, etc. so the tools were always at hand.

    The agenda allocated time to each topic and showed the presenter as well as what was expected from the others in the meeting regarding that topic: info was just shared, decision needed, desired outcome, etc. The timekeeper signaled if allocated time was being exceeded. The group could decide to keep going and remove something from the agenda or disposition the topic some other way. Action items and notes were captured by the scribe and distributed afterwards.

    By the way, at the beginning of the meeting, all attendees were polled as to whether they had read the pre-read material. If even just one person hadn’t read it, the meeting was cancelled on the spot to be rescheduled. Guess how many times afterwards that person came to any meeting unprepared?

    Sounds like a lot of rigidity and rigamarole, doesn’t it? But it worked and worked well. Given how much was required, you thought long and hard about whether to have a meeting. Everyone made sure to be prepared, show up on time, etc.

    All of this became second nature and part of the company culture because it was reinforced by management all the way to the top. It was an amazing, efficient, effective way to run a business.

    If you’d like to learn more about this meeting process, read “Mining Group Gold, Third Editon: How to Cash in on the Collaborative Brain Power of a Team for Innovation and Results” by Thomas Kayser. It’s available on Amazon in hardcover and Kindle.

  • http://www.HabitofThought.com Mary Anne Shew

    I disagree with you about meetings being penance, not work, Chris. People say goals, meetings, managing a calendar, having good to-do lists don’t work and are as a waste of time. When tools are not used properly, people dismiss and throw out the tool rather than take the time to learn how to use it the right way.

    In the late 80s, David Kearns, Xerox CEO, rolled out Leadership Through Quality to beat back Japanese competition. One of the main LTQ tools was how to run a meeting. (And Xerox had lots of meetings…) The rules included requiring an agenda and pre-read material to be sent out a week in advance, pre-assigned meeting roles (facilitator, timekeeper, scribe), and using the Interactive Skills we had all been taught (initiating, reacting, clarifying) during the discussions (both inside and outside meetings). There were even rules to make sure every conference room was well-stocked with easel pads, pens, dry-erase pens, erasers, etc. so the tools were always at hand.

    The agenda allocated time to each topic and showed the presenter as well as what was expected from the others in the meeting regarding that topic: info was just shared, decision needed, desired outcome, etc. The timekeeper signaled if allocated time was being exceeded. The group could decide to keep going and remove something from the agenda or disposition the topic some other way. Action items and notes were captured by the scribe and distributed afterwards.

    By the way, at the beginning of the meeting, all attendees were polled as to whether they had read the pre-read material. If even just one person hadn’t read it, the meeting was cancelled on the spot to be rescheduled. Guess how many times afterwards that person came to any meeting unprepared?

    Sounds like a lot of rigidity and rigamarole, doesn’t it? But it worked and worked well. Given how much was required, you thought long and hard about whether to have a meeting. Everyone made sure to be prepared, show up on time, etc.

    All of this became second nature and part of the company culture because it was reinforced by management all the way to the top. It was an amazing, efficient, effective way to run a business.

    If you’d like to learn more about this meeting process, read “Mining Group Gold, Third Editon: How to Cash in on the Collaborative Brain Power of a Team for Innovation and Results” by Thomas Kayser. It’s available on Amazon in hardcover and Kindle.

    • Mike2367

      We called it Just In Time (JIT) and eventually lead to downsizing everyone out of a job and it was something invented in the US that was later used to turn around the Japanese economy….When I was young…

    • http://ruinunes.com Rui Nunes

      Actually, that may be correct on a time where the information flow couldn’t be more quicker and didn’t had so much new technology to pass the information through efficiently. If you use something like Basecamp or Campfire from 37Signals or even Threddie that could be. But like these, are hundreds of systems that allow us to share information, dialogue, exchange ideas and brainstormings without being closed in a room. This tools also give you some authority in you time because you only need to update it when you’re ready, not necessarily having to bring some responses when you’re not in the mood or with inspiration to.

    • http://ruinunes.com Rui Nunes

      Actually, that may be correct on a time where the information flow couldn’t be more quicker and didn’t had so much new technology to pass the information through efficiently. If you use something like Basecamp or Campfire from 37Signals or even Threddie that could be. But like these, are hundreds of systems that allow us to share information, dialogue, exchange ideas and brainstormings without being closed in a room. This tools also give you some authority in you time because you only need to update it when you’re ready, not necessarily having to bring some responses when you’re not in the mood or with inspiration to.

    • http://ruinunes.com Rui Nunes

      Actually, that may be correct on a time where the information flow couldn’t be more quicker and didn’t had so much new technology to pass the information through efficiently. If you use something like Basecamp or Campfire from 37Signals or even Threddie that could be. But like these, are hundreds of systems that allow us to share information, dialogue, exchange ideas and brainstormings without being closed in a room. This tools also give you some authority in you time because you only need to update it when you’re ready, not necessarily having to bring some responses when you’re not in the mood or with inspiration to.

    • http://ruinunes.com Rui Nunes

      Actually, that may be correct on a time where the information flow couldn’t be more quicker and didn’t had so much new technology to pass the information through efficiently. If you use something like Basecamp or Campfire from 37Signals or even Threddie that could be. But like these, are hundreds of systems that allow us to share information, dialogue, exchange ideas and brainstormings without being closed in a room. This tools also give you some authority in you time because you only need to update it when you’re ready, not necessarily having to bring some responses when you’re not in the mood or with inspiration to.

    • http://www.meetcom.com Marsh

      Excellent points Mary Anne. Especially the “The rules included requiring an agenda and pre-read material to be sent out a week in advance, pre-assigned meeting roles (facilitator, timekeeper, scribe). Good meetings require pre-meeting work to get successful results.

    • http://www.meetcom.com Marsh

      Excellent points Mary Anne. Especially the “The rules included requiring an agenda and pre-read material to be sent out a week in advance, pre-assigned meeting roles (facilitator, timekeeper, scribe). Good meetings require pre-meeting work to get successful results.

    • http://www.meetcom.com Marsh

      Excellent points Mary Anne. Especially the “The rules included requiring an agenda and pre-read material to be sent out a week in advance, pre-assigned meeting roles (facilitator, timekeeper, scribe). Good meetings require pre-meeting work to get successful results.

  • http://www.HabitofThought.com Mary Anne Shew

    I disagree with you about meetings being penance, not work, Chris. People say goals, meetings, managing a calendar, having good to-do lists don’t work and are as a waste of time. When tools are not used properly, people dismiss and throw out the tool rather than take the time to learn how to use it the right way.

    In the late 80s, David Kearns, Xerox CEO, rolled out Leadership Through Quality to beat back Japanese competition. One of the main LTQ tools was how to run a meeting. (And Xerox had lots of meetings…) The rules included requiring an agenda and pre-read material to be sent out a week in advance, pre-assigned meeting roles (facilitator, timekeeper, scribe), and using the Interactive Skills we had all been taught (initiating, reacting, clarifying) during the discussions (both inside and outside meetings). There were even rules to make sure every conference room was well-stocked with easel pads, pens, dry-erase pens, erasers, etc. so the tools were always at hand.

    The agenda allocated time to each topic and showed the presenter as well as what was expected from the others in the meeting regarding that topic: info was just shared, decision needed, desired outcome, etc. The timekeeper signaled if allocated time was being exceeded. The group could decide to keep going and remove something from the agenda or disposition the topic some other way. Action items and notes were captured by the scribe and distributed afterwards.

    By the way, at the beginning of the meeting, all attendees were polled as to whether they had read the pre-read material. If even just one person hadn’t read it, the meeting was cancelled on the spot to be rescheduled. Guess how many times afterwards that person came to any meeting unprepared?

    Sounds like a lot of rigidity and rigamarole, doesn’t it? But it worked and worked well. Given how much was required, you thought long and hard about whether to have a meeting. Everyone made sure to be prepared, show up on time, etc.

    All of this became second nature and part of the company culture because it was reinforced by management all the way to the top. It was an amazing, efficient, effective way to run a business.

    If you’d like to learn more about this meeting process, read “Mining Group Gold, Third Editon: How to Cash in on the Collaborative Brain Power of a Team for Innovation and Results” by Thomas Kayser. It’s available on Amazon in hardcover and Kindle.

  • http://blog.webconsuls.com/ Judy Helfand

    According to my calculations this meeting was called to order around 1:30AM PDT. The discussion has been going on for at least six hours.

    What do you say we adjourn and get back to work? You can review the meeting minutes here at your leisure.

    Judy

  • http://www.drewhawkins.org Drew Hawkins

    We had a meeting in our office about this. After about 3 hours we concluded that you picked an amazing graphic for this post

    • http://twitter.com/jasonhobbsllc Jason Hobbs, LLC

      I laughed out loud at the graphic and your comment, well done. :)

    • http://twitter.com/jasonhobbsllc Jason Hobbs, LLC

      I laughed out loud at the graphic and your comment, well done. :)

    • http://twitter.com/jasonhobbsllc Jason Hobbs, LLC

      I laughed out loud at the graphic and your comment, well done. :)

  • Gt Theriault

    Wow, hot topic today! Great ideas and good arguements for or againts. I’m all for action. I hate with a very strong passion the info meetings. Don’t waist my time with you reading some information. I could have read that information in 5 min instead I had to listen for 45 min!
    Chris, I really like your format.
    In my profession, meetings are mandated! We need to have a minimum of meeting per year and within those meeting, they need to reach a certain amount of hours! So, for me when I have a meeting with my department, it’s action driven and the staff always say after “only if we could use your model for the big staff meeting, we would be more effective!”

  • Gt Theriault

    Wow, hot topic today! Great ideas and good arguements for or againts. I’m all for action. I hate with a very strong passion the info meetings. Don’t waist my time with you reading some information. I could have read that information in 5 min instead I had to listen for 45 min!
    Chris, I really like your format.
    In my profession, meetings are mandated! We need to have a minimum of meeting per year and within those meeting, they need to reach a certain amount of hours! So, for me when I have a meeting with my department, it’s action driven and the staff always say after “only if we could use your model for the big staff meeting, we would be more effective!”

  • http://ruinunes.com Rui Nunes

    This was a lesson learned from one of my mentors. Some people see this MO like an arrogant or cold water approach to things, but meetings can be the major time consuming and non profitable spend of all day work.
    Work is done outside the meetings. Meetings are just for quick and brief presentations followed by more info through other platforms or mediums.