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Weekly 3: Not all meetings are bad

Summary: Some people believe that all meetings are bad ("I hate meetings!"). And many meetings are a

Idea Journal Weekly 3

October 18 · Issue #161 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Some people believe that all meetings are bad (“I hate meetings!”). And many meetings are a waste of time. But they don’t have to be.
Meetings can be wonderfully productive if they’re run well. Having better meetings starts with deciding whether a meeting is necessary in the first place.
(~4 min read)

#1. Are you sure your next meeting is necessary?
Entrepreneurs Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson write in Rework that “interruption is the enemy of productivity.”
And meetings are the worst type of interruption.
Here a few of the reasons Fried and Heinemeier Hansson think meetings can be “toxic”:
1. They lack focus: Many meetings don’t have clear agendas, and as a result they tend to drift chaotically from one topic to another.
2. They’re scheduled like TV shows: The amount of time allotted for a meeting is usually dependent on the scheduling software that’s being used (e.g., 30 minutes).
For example, no one ever schedules a 7 minute meeting. But if that’s how long it would take to achieve the meeting’s goal, then that’s all the time you need.
3. They’re costly: When you bring five people together for a 1 hour meeting, it’s actually a 5 hour meeting because you’re trading 5 hours of productivity for 1 hour of meeting.
The cost is even higher if you factor in the “mental switching costs that come with stopping what you’re doing, going somewhere else to meet, and then resuming what were you doing beforehand.”
But sometimes you need to have a meeting.
In those cases, Fried an Heinemeier Hansson recommend the following tips: 
  • Always have a clear agenda.
  • Invite the minimum number of people necessary to accomplish the agenda.
  • Begin with a specific problem.
  • Meet at the site of the problem instead of a conference room: “Point to real things and suggest real changes.”
  • End with a solution to the problem and make someone responsible for implementing it.
  • Set a timer, and when it goes off the meeting’s over. Period.
#2. Match the type of meeting to your objective
Management consultants Jenny Davis-Peccoud and Michael Mankins write that the most effective companies “have learned to manage their meetings as carefully as they manage any other part of their business.”
To help ensure that your meetings have a clear purpose and objective, Mankins and Davis-Peccoud recommend using a framework called “IDD.”
IDD stands for inform, discuss, and decide.
For example, staff at the University of California, Berkeley are expected to begin each meeting with the following statement:
“The purpose of this meeting is to inform you about X, to discuss Y, and to decide on Z.”
Organizing meetings this way has the following two benefits:
  1. It forces you to come up with a specific, well-defined decision that needs to be reached during the meeting.
  2. Whenever possible, it encourages you to assign any “inform” materials as pre-reading so that you can make the most of the time you are together.
You can also use each of the 3 functions of the IDD framework to determine the focus of an entire meeting.
Switching around the order, here’s an example of how the framework might be used by a team to launch a new initiative within a broader organization:
  • An initial brainstorming session to discuss ideas for the new initiative.
  • A follow-up meeting to decide which of those ideas is the best option and agree on the plan for implementing it.
  • Finally, a meeting to inform others in the organization about the new initiative’s launch and what to expect.
#3. Do your meetings pass this test?
Author and marketing guru Seth Godin has proposed the below seven-point checklist for a meeting that he would agree to join. 
He asks: “Can your next meeting (not conversation, not presentation, but meeting) pass this test?”
1. There’s no a better way to move forward than to have this meeting.
2. One person is ultimately responsible.
3. The goal of the meeting is clearly stated. The organizer has described what would need to happen for the meeting to be cancelled or to end early: “This is what I want to happen,” and if there’s a “yes,” it’s over.
4. The time allotted for the meeting matches the goal – “not what the calendar app says.”
5. Everyone who’s invited needs to be there, and no key party is missing.
6. There’s a “default step forward” if someone can’t attend.
7. All relevant background materials are available to everyone with enough time to review them in advance.
Quote of the week
“… meetings have to be the exception rather than the rule. An organization in which everybody meets all the time is an organization in which no one gets anything done.”
- Management expert Peter Drucker in The Essential Drucker
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