Posted in practice on August 4, 2016 1:27 pm EDT

Meetings With Meaning

How to live with the tedium of meetings and actually get something accomplished. A must-read, whether you own or work for an AVL design company or an architecture firm.











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TAGS: business, collaboration, communication, productivity,


By Christian Doering

Want to make your meetings useful and valuable? Start by asking a question: Why are you calling this meeting?

So many meetings could—and should—have been avoided if the organizer had asked this seemingly basic and inescapable question. Of course, some people just love an audience, and what better way to get one than to schedule a meeting, particularly if most of the attendees report to you? Enter the “regular staff meeting.”

So, what is this meeting for? No, not 10 things. One thing that needs to be decided, planned, initiated or monitored, and that needs a group to perform the necessary task (otherwise, why meet at all?). Who’s in that group? When can all those people get together? Great – now you know Why, Who and When, which will probably dictate Where.

Motivating real actions by real people is another thing altogether. If you want to make that happen, you need more than an agenda. You need a strategy for each item on it.

As hard as it is to get the right people to come to your meeting, it can be harder to keep others away. We’d like to make them purely functional, but meetings are also ceremonial, and if you are excluded from too many, people may begin to think you’re not important. Try cc:ing the agenda to the people who aren’t invited, in order to keep them in the know and to avoid the perception that you’re trying to cut them out of a power loop.

Not all meetings need that kind of definition, just a lot more than most people actually sit in. But there are other valid reasons for meeting. Maybe you have made a decision and you want to sell it (not just tell it) in person to a few key players. Maybe you really do need to throw some stuff up on the wall, to blue-sky, to brainstorm. But is a standard conference-room meeting during work hours the best place for creative thinking?

Next question: How will the group reach the meeting objective? There may be a few steps leading up to the goal, one or two or at most three topics that must be addressed, a couple of choices that have to be made in order to reach consensus. The goal, the Why, generates the How—a short agenda, with projected times to complete each item. If those projected times add up to more than 25 minutes, attention will wander and the meeting will break down before it breaks up. If you can’t envision a workable How, you should revise your Why to make it more manageable.

Powerful Meeting Management + Participation

At the same time, you can assign individual responsibility for the agenda items. You can also designate three key helper roles that will allow you to focus on the purpose and outcome of the meeting. Have a facilitator track the process of getting through the agenda, a timekeeper to keep the group on schedule, and a recorder to register and archive what happens.

The next question is more important than it might seem at first: what do you want to see and hear when the meeting is over and people are leaving? Smiles and animated chatter? Excited and determined faces plus serious side-discussions? Tension-filled silence and suppressed sighs of relief? It’s one thing to post an agenda, run through it and declare consensus. Motivating real actions by real people is another

thing altogether. If you want to make that happen, you need more than an agenda. You need a strategy for each item on it. Who will open the discussion? Whose opinion must be heard? Who is likely to bore everyone with an irrelevant “contribution,” and how are you going to cut that person off without being rude? How will you keep the focus on that topic for the five to ten minutes it needs? How will you invoke the clock, summarize and move on? It’s great to know where your meeting is going. It’s even better if you have a good idea of how to get there.

You also need basic meeting discipline. Circulate the agenda and any supporting information in advance. Start on time and “close” the door. Refusing entry to latecomers may be too harsh, but don’t start over for them. You’ve defined the significance of the meeting, so recognize the significance of the actual occasion.  continued >>