I was mildly amused by my friend Steve Jones blog post Finding a Direction about not really wanting to spend a couple days in meetings. The amusement is in part because I know he's just as contrarian as I am, but really it's because we have an entire generation of workers that have grown to believe 99% of meetings are bad. I won't argue that I've been to a few bad meetings in my career but in general meetings (and I mean face to face meetings) can be very productive if you follow the rules of good meetings. I know there are entire books, but here's my list:
- Good meetings have agendas. I want to see who will be there, how long it will last, and at least a couple bullet points about what we'll discuss and most important, is there a deliverable due at the end of the meeting. I also want to know if I need to prepare in advance and if I'm a primary participant or just there as staff in case my expertise is needed.
- Good meetings always have minutes. Doesn't have to be fancy, but weeks later it's entirely helpful to know who actually attended, few sentence summary, and reminders about todo items assigned during the meeting
- Someone needs to be assigned as the moderator so that one or two people don't dominate the meeting, throw it off course, or just cause it to run twice as long. Nothing wrong with altering the agenda as needed, but the moderator can decide if something should be tabled for later
- The number one reason to have a meeting is to share information. Over communication is almost impossible, most of us under communicate badly. Email is a useful tool, as are intranets, wiki's, blogs - take your pick, but it's a rare meeting where questions are asked because something wasn't covered in the email.
- The number two reason to have a meeting is to brain storm. Even a great idea can be made better by putting some people with the right knowledge in the room and just turning them loose to think. (As an aside, when I participate in these sessions I like to stretch the envelope beyond what is probably doable/practical/affordable just to see if there is one good idea lurking at the edge, then gradually reduce the solution radius until we're back inside whatever we can afford to do).
- If you're a primary participant don't have your laptop open unless you have to have it support the meeting, and stay off the Blackberry too. If you're there just in case move back from the table and listen while you work on some non-critical task.
If you think about the bad meetings you've been to I bet they violate most of those ideas. What do you do when your boss runs bad meetings? Suffer. Send them a link to this post. Buy a meeting book and pass it around. And then perhaps still suffer.
We're knowledge workers and none of us are dumb, a few are astonishingly smart. Good things happen when you put a lot of smart people in one place, but it's not even close to realistic that we can do great things without some interpersonal contact. What are you saying/projecting when you don't want to meet with others on your team? That you're too smart to need help? That they are too dumb to help? That you'd rather do 'ok' rather than 'great' rather than ask for help?
There's also something to be said for the old platitude of 'attitudes are contagious'. If you're determined to be miserable you probably will be!