“Meetings are usually toxic because they often convey an abysmally small amount of information per minute”.
Have you ever felt this way? Having sat through many frustrating meetings, I resonate with this statement. Often meetings are ineffective because participants are unclear about its purpose and outcomes. When people enter a meeting with unclear expectations they experience frustration which is a catalyst for conflict. A simple way to minimize this is to establish clear guidelines about the meeting purpose.
Generally, there are five reasons for holding a meeting:
1. Information Sharing: The purpose of this meeting is to convey information which helps people do their job more effectively. A common example of an information sharing meeting is a conference or a sales presentation. Increasingly, ‘information’ agenda items are sent via a short email instead of at group meetings
2. Problem Solving/Innovation: Attendees focus on specific problems or ideas which need to be debated and discussed by the group. For example, a department sensed a market niche for a new product. However, the exact product specifications were unknown so a problem solving meeting was used to debate ideas and design a product that would best meet customer needs.
3. Decision Making: Some meetings are for the sole purpose of making a decision. Often these decisions are a result of a problem solving meeting or are done at problem solving meetings. For example, a geographically dispersed sales team had developed individual draft schedules of their annual sales travel. They called a decision making meeting to synthesize plans, solve scheduling conflicts and finalize decisions as a group.
4. Planning: Organizations build short and long-term plans to establish goals, strategies and tactics. Often called strategic planning, the goal of these meetings is to establish corporate, divisional or individual direction and priorities.
5. Commitment Building: When you need to ‘get everyone on the same page’ a commitment building meeting is effective. These often occur when a new product is launched, when the company hires a new CEO or when an organization embarks on a new venture.
Sometimes meetings will combine more than one of these purposes. If this is the case, you can use agenda headers to outline what participants should expect. Meetings can be effective but it doesn’t happen by accident. They require pre-planning and a clear answer to the question on the mind of every participant – “why are we at this meeting?”
And a box of donuts doesn’t hurt either!
 Fried, Jason & Hansson, David (2010). Rework. New York: Crown Publishing. P. 108.
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