A Software Engineer, a Hardware Engineer and a Branch Manager were on their way to a meeting. They were driving down a steep mountain road when suddenly the brakes on their car failed. The car careened almost out of control down the road, bouncing off the crash barriers, until it miraculously ground to a halt scraping along the mountainside. The car’s occupants, shaken but unhurt, now had a problem: they were stuck halfway down a mountain in a car with no brakes. What were they to do?”
I know,” said the Branch Manager, “Let’s have a meeting, propose a Vision, formulate a Mission Statement, define some Goals, and by a process of Continuous Improvement find a solution to the Critical Problems, and we can be on our way.”
“No, no,” said the Hardware Engineer, “That will take far too long, and besides, that method has never worked before. I’ve got my Swiss Army knife with me, and in no time at all I can strip down the car’s braking system, isolate the fault, fix it, and we can be on our way.”
“Well,” said the Software Engineer, “Before we do anything, I think we should push the car back up the road and see if it happens again.” (Stolen from www.jokebuddha.com)
I am constantly hearing people say that they got nothing done one day as they spent most of the day in meetings. Actually this is a problematic attitude. Meetings are for getting things done and in addition they are not exclusively for getting things done. A meeting has and should have a variety of purposes. They are not only about getting things done, they are about bonding, getting to know colleagues, sharing stories, having a good time and generally enjoying each others company. We are not meant to be solitary workers and meetings are a positive way of adding some enjoyment to the working day, as long as you actually enjoy the people you are meeting with. That being said, it is still possible to waste time in meetings.
There are all sorts of advisors who would tell you that it is critical to follow a certain set of steps in order to have a productive meeting. These would be to have a chairperson, set an agenda, record minutes and stick to the agenda. Having been in over 10,000 meetings in my working life I have to admit that the number of times that I have seen someone follow the proscribed method of having a meeting is less than a handful. These meetings are in fact among the worst I ever attended. People are not meant to work that way; they are more free flowing and extemporaneous than would be allowed for in a highly structured meeting.
The key to any meeting is simple. Just have an objective. That’s it, a simple objective. A meeting should be about either of two things: developing a plan or working on removing obstacles. Meetings that are just used to update people about the status of one thing or another are a waste of time. Updates are better handled through regular reports as to status and the recipient can spend as much time as is necessary to get as much of a picture is necessary when it is a regular report.
Before any meeting and at the beginning of the meeting you should establish the objective of the meeting. As the meeting progresses, let it meander over different territory from time to time but if it strays too far or for too long then gently remind people about the objective of the meeting. Going with the flow means that you don’t obsessively adhere to the objectives but every now and then make sure that you are making progress in meeting them. At the end of the meeting all you need to do is make sure that you met the objective and that there is a plan for follow up that is reinforced in an email by whoever owns the plan. Not too rigid or complex, just enough to be efficient