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Mastering meetings

Collaboration jams

Meetings. They are, of course, an essential tool for managers and workers to consider options, plan programs, coordinate activity, and assess progress. But there are at least three problems with meetings. These are related to decision-making, accountability, and control. Let’s take a brief look at the first one, today.

The swaying sword of Damocles

The core duty of a manager is to make decisions. Yes, the definitions revolve around the activities that characterize what type of decision-maker a manager is: planning, allocating, coordinating, and the like. But underlying the ability to do these, is the ability to make decisions. These are often hard, risky decisions. They may involve restructuring, personnel realignment, market entry or abandonment – or even matters related to organizational identity, such as leadership philosophy or corporate culture matters. Meetings are often a good venue for making sure a wide range of relevant data and information is assembled, evaluated, and used to inform good decisions. Specific meeting types are used for parts of the decision-making process, and they can be very effective. Indeed, when properly used, you can practically feel the organizational energy forming up around the process, preparing to unleash itself on execution of the ultimate decision. But sometimes you can get an entirely different feeling at these meetings, can’t you?

Smoke-filled rooms

Have you ever gotten the impression that you were supposed to comprehend what was happening at a meeting you were attending, but something just wasn’t fitting in? You understand the language, the procedures, even the faddishly sensitive approach to the issues. But there seems to be an undercurrent moving powerfully right under the surface, and driven by more primal instincts than the conversation there professes, which is giving the actual motive force to the shaping of events. What does it mean?

Meetings – what are they all about?

If meetings are so vital to planning and coordinating our efforts at work, why do we dread them so much? We’ve discussed some of the reasons for this over the past several days. But there’s another, even more common problem with meetings: they, simply, aren’t well done. This is a huge, and hugely important, topic, and we can’t cover it in detail. But we will go over some of the principles related to the above points over the next several days. In the meanwhile, there are at least two ways you can protect yourself from meeting-overload . . .

How about we get together sometime?

Consider the implications if you were to hold meetings never knowing if anyone would show up – or stay. What would you do differently if that were a genuine likelihood?

Can we fit this in somewhere?

Deciding on whether to schedule yet another meeting requires analysis just as deliberately conducted as would be routinely performed for so intense a use of any other organizational asset. There are actually two levels on which to pursue this. One is related to the putative benefit of the meeting, and the other to the costs it will exact.

Making your meeting

Suppose you have determined that a meeting is exactly the right step to take at the right time, and that you’ve successfully marketed it to the key attendees whose participation is key to its success. But you still have what the software industry used to call “airware” – something you’ve sold, but not yet created. So, it’s time to get busy with that. . .

Managing your meeting

Some people think that plans that are especially well done will somehow execute of their own accord. This is particularly true of meetings. But remember that these are especially sensitive venues, filled with both promise and danger for everyone attending – many will want to subvert it to their own ends. Others may join the struggle. If you don’t take charge, the whole thing may end up in the ditch. So, take charge, and make no apologies about it.

Are you sure we were at the same meeting?

You’ve held the best meeting anyone’s ever attended. It closed to actual applause, and everyone came up afterward to congratulate you. Clearly, a job well done, right? Not yet. . .

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