Good meeting just don't happen.
Good meetings need a curator
The quality and quantity of meetings affects your organization's performance.
I've always had a thing about meetings. I like them, but only when they are well run. I always felt my extrovert personality was at my most insightful and creative when I surrounded by smart people focused on important issues. There's a feeling of accomplishment when a meeting generates a solution to big issue facing the organization or a department in the organization.
Stephen Yasko's favorite rules for meetings follows at the bottom of this post.
I ran into this article in the Harvard Business Review and it reaffirmed my sense of what makes a good meeting and how we lose so much time sitting in bad meetings.
During my career, I've been an Executive Director responsible for moving the whole organization forward, and I've been a member of a few senior teams as well. While the HBR article focuses large organizations, there's a lot of grist for any size organization, especially public media organizations.
We're special in public radio and public television. We have multiple organizations that often request our time to work on system wide issues. We're often flattered and excited to contribute and the time requirements emphasize that we need manage our time (quantity of meetings) and our discussions (quality of meetings).
The line that struck me most in the HBR story won't seem like a revolation.
The purpose of meetings is to ensure that management makes good decisions quickly.
That seems obvious but think about your last staff meeting. Did the agenda include a discussion about the decision the leader needs to make or did you go around the room with updates from each department? You may have done both but the HBR story talk about the division of time between those two tasks. The average amount of time spent in senior leadership meetings is 21 hours a month. I can't recall the last time I spent that much time a month with my team.
Here's a quote from the HBR story that will ring familiar to most of us creative folks:
It’s probably not surprising, given the ad hoc way meeting priorities are set at most companies, that top management spends less than three hours a month discussing strategy issues (including mergers and acquisitions) or making strategic decisions. In fact, our research reveals, as much as 80% of top management’s time is devoted to issues that account for less than 20% of a company’s long-term value. At one global financial service firm in our survey, for example, a senior line executive reported that top executives spent more time each year selecting the company’s holiday card than debating the bank’s strategy for the entire continent of Africa (where they had made significant capital investments).
It's not the meeting, it's not the pre-meeting, it's the pre-pre meeting that ensures a successful meeting
HBR calls this agenda curation. But I learned way back when in my NPR days that when an organization is working on a big project, it's worth stepping back and deciding how you want the meeting to go, what you need from each department, how you pace it and how how you make it fun. While this specifically applies to projects, not ongoing meetings, the principle is the same. The agenda needs to be formally curated and monitored with enough discipline to ensure everyone's time is used properly. The meeting leader knows what the issues are and knows who on the team can supply the information so give them enough advance warning so they can assemble the information and distribute it to the meeting participants so they can respond and discuss in the meeting.
Sink your teeth in the HBR story.
Stephen Yasko's Meeting Rules
I can't say that I follow my own rules 100 percent of the time. But here goes.
- No meetings before 10 am Monday or after 3 pm Friday.. with anyone except a happy hour with a colleague from another organization.
- The agenda belongs to the person running the meeting.
- If you got an admin, have them take notes and distribute tasks and expectations for the next meeting.
- Do not schedule back to back meetings. Sure, this one is unavoidable, but start with the no back to back mindset when looking at your book.
- Fast (5-15) minute meetings to make sure staff is on the same page for details are helpful but don't let them become 30 minutes long.