There is one type of person in the world: People who hate meetings, and people who love well-run meetings.
Over coffee yesterday, my friend told me a story from when he used to work for Microsoft:
He was heading out for lunch when he glanced at his calendar… and saw he had a meeting half a mile away that started in 10 minutes! He didn’t remember anything about this meeting, but sprinted across campus to make it on time. He walked in just as everyone was sitting down.
People settled in, look around, and then… the room went silent. People looked around some more. Everyone was waiting for someone else to start.
Finally, my friend spoke up. “So, uh… who called this meeting?”
“Uhm.. does anyone know what this meeting is about?”
“Who are all you people?”
Everyone laughed. No one in that room had ever even met each other.
This is definitely one of the worst meetings I’ve heard about, but everyone has meetings like this (although maybe not so obvious!). Hating meetings is a popular meme, but why do people hate meetings?
Because they’re boring. They’re unproductive. You often don’t even know why you’re there or what the purpose of the meeting is.
If you want people to stop hating meetings, there are three easy words you can choose from that will immediately improve the quality of every meeting you have:
Decide, Discuss, Inform.
Every meeting should exist to do ONE of these three things. And before any meeting, everyone should know which of these three types of meetings it is.
Is the purpose of the meeting to decide something? If so, make sure you have deciders in the room. Make sure they know what they’re going to be deciding on. Make sure they know you’re all walking away from this meeting with a decision.
Is the purpose of the meeting to discuss something? If so, make sure the people in the room know what you’re discussing. Make sure they’re the right stakeholders to discuss that topic. Make sure people have the information they need to have an intelligent discussion. And make sure people know there is no expectation of coming to a decision in that meeting.
Finally, is the purpose of the meeting to inform the group about something? Are you telling people about a new policy or rule? A new hire or fire? Make sure people know this is largely going to be informational, and not a discussion.
The worst part about meetings is when people have mismatched expectations going into them. If my boss think this is an Inform meeting, but you think it’s a Decide meeting… there’s going to be some conflict and some frustration.
Try this out. When you send your next meeting invite, in the meeting description use the phrase: “The purpose of this meeting is to [decide/discuss/inform] about [topic].”
If you’re interested in exterminating boring and unproductive meetings forever, Wonful is running a public workshop: Liberating Structures: Stop Unproductive Meetings, Start Producing Dramatically Better Results. The workshop is January 21st and 22nd in Seattle. Use the code InnovationAtWork for 10% off!
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