Seth Godin gets it half right about how to fix your meeting problem

We liked Seth’s observations about “Three different kinds of meetings” but his post “Getting serious about your meeting problem” is a classic of what not to do - except he does throw in a disclaimer at the end,

“This is all marketing. It’s a show, one that lets your team know you’re treating meetings differently now.”

Great to be different but let’s be effective. The meeting marketing only works for so long because you’re still working with a way of running meetings that is fundamentally broken. You can paper over the cracks and hold it together with string and glue but it’s still broken and continually hard work to get your meetings productive.

To be fair we do agree with a number of Seth’s points:

1. Understand that all problems are not the same. So why are your meetings? Does every issue deserve an hour? Why is there a default length?

Indeed, personally I blame Outlook and other diary and meeting management software that has these defaults. But there’s also an insidious belief that meetings must occupy the fully allocated time.

3. Require preparation. Give people things to read or do before the meeting, and if they don’t, kick them out.

Poor preparation is a meeting killer - we tend to cancel the whole meeting if the prep’s not done as presumably we needed everyone’s input else why did we invite them to the meeting?

7. The organizer of the meeting is required to send a short email summary, with action items, to every attendee within ten minutes of the end of the meeting.

We’d drop the summary - except for any resolutions made - the action points are critical. Even better, print the action points off the whiteboard before people leave the room.

9. If you’re not adding value to a meeting, leave. You can always read the summary later.

We always provide an opportunity at the start of each meeting for each participant to understand why they are there and the value they are expected to add - and the opportunity to leave at that point.

The above are all good practices for getting a more productive meeting - but some of Seth’s other suggestions fall into the classic “forcing” mode - use a timer, no chairs, no more than 4 five-minute increments - these are brute force methods and they will have some level of effectiveness but they have side-effects too - like suppressing important input from people who may be a little slower or who get cut off all the time. You can make meetings much shorter by addressing the meeting process - then meetings take as long as they really need to - neither undercooked or overcooked.

As for number 8 - the naming and shaming approach, well yeah that may work but is that a team approach? How about fundamentally shifting the ownership and responsibility for meetings from organisers and chairpersons to the participants? What if the quality or otherwise of the meetings was owned by everyone not just a few? How about if I just attended a bad meeting and that was my responsibility as much as anyone else’s? This the kind of change we institute with the Action Meetings process - the meetings improve and funnily enough so do other behaviours in the organisation.

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