Six Elements of Crappy Meeting Liberation

Stop Wasting Your Time and Everyone Else’s

Meetings Can Easily Be Better

We all like to go ballistic on how awful meetings are.

Human beings are notoriously bad at screwing up a good thing.

Meetings are no different.

A meeting is two or more people communicating, creating, or consoling.

We get together and build things, decide things, solve things, expound upon things, learn things, enjoy things…that is a meeting. They are awesome. You should love them to death.

However, every time we teach a class or work with a client, when we ask people to list out what interrupts them or stops them from getting work done… meetings is at the top of the list.

Right along with e-mails, phone calls, drive-bys, quick chats, “just a minute”s, and on and on and on.

In other words, right along with other words for meetings.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working on the “Meetings that Work” class for Modus Institute. It’s a series of videos that I thought were going to talk about different formats, ways to draw attention, visualizations, etc.

What ended up happening, instead, was I rapidly realized that e-mails are meetings, slack chats are meetings, quick chats over the cubicle wall … are meetings. They are all interruptions, they are all meetings, they are all crucial for getting work done.

We have more and more and more and more of them because we have no idea how to just talk to each other.

It’s not the format of our meetings, it’s the style of our communication that is a problem. It is how we as a team or a company agree to work together. How we allow ourselves and others to concentrate. When we interrupt, with what, and how.

All of these combine to create your team’s collaborative way of working.

The Six Elements of Crappy Meeting Liberation

Here’s my six favorite ideas (there are many more) from the online Meetings that Work class:

  1. Recognize Meeting Fatigue. Meeting fatigue comes from the volume of meetings, the variety of them, and randomness of schedule — lots of different meetings happening at different times does not allow people to build focus and complete their work. Even if the meeting is helpful, it still feels like an interruption. The more meetings you have randomly split throughout the day, the more context switching and the less task completion anyone is capable of.
  2. Respect One-on-ones. These are the most common type of meeting. They can be an e-mail. They can be in slack. They can be you and me quickly discussing a deliverable or a regular monthly session with upper management. They are rarely structured and often happen as flat-out interruptions. We can schedule these better, we can respect each other better, we can learn from each other better (all of which decrease the need for future meetings).
  3. Schedule Open office hours: Office hours and meetings deserts are important. Some teams I’ve worked with say things like, “From 10 to noon we just focus, from 2 to 4 is open hours.” That that means is that if you need something from someone, you save it until 2 pm. If you can’t, that’s fine because it’s really an emergency then. Not sure what an emergency is? Don’t worry, you’ll learn pretty quickly. :-)
  4. KILL STRONG AGENDAS: Strong agendas and power distance go hand-in-hand. The agenda itself creates power distance, squelches conversation, and creates numerous anti-collaborative behaviors (talking over each other, in-fighting, filibustering…)
  5. Be Smarter With Your Time: Working sessions and real-time information sources beat status meetings every time, in every place, in every instance, always and forever.
  6. Pyromania: If you downloaded and posted one of those inane 14 to 22-point lists of meeting rules that say infantilizing crap like “pay attention” or “wait your turn” or “don’t eat food,” please send me a picture of you setting it on fire. If you need 14 to 22 rules about how to have a better meeting…the meeting isn’t the problem.

Building systems to communicate better is possible.

Better communication can only happen by people…communicating.

People communicating and getting work done, decisions made, and problems solved.

Those are meetings.

Your problem isn’t “meetings” it’s what, when, and how you communicate.