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I put this up on the companies internal wiki a few years ago…

Meeting Survival Checklist.

It’s no secret.

I HATE meetings.

They are the very bane of my existence. It’s been so for decades.

Give me an Alpine meadow with not a single person within a days walk and I’ll happily keep my own company for weeks.

Play Google calendar’s meeting notification sound and my stomach clenches in misery.

If somebody would offer me a job without meetings, I’d take it tomorrow.

But meetings seem to be an inevitable plague on my life… so as a New Year’s rethink on how to cope with this, here is my “2013 meeting survival checklist”.

Checklist.
  1. Walk over and see if you can resolve the issue without a meeting.
  2. Is a meeting the appropriate mechanism here? (Email, walk over and chat, telephone, …)
  3. What is the purpose of this meeting? There is only one acceptable purpose for a meeting… Decide and Commit.
  4. What is the agenda? What decision must be reached by the end of the meeting?
  5. Can I decline giving a reason? (eg. Nothing to contribute, delegating vote to proxy, …)
  6. Can I cancel the meeting?
    1. Just because it’s a regularly scheduled meeting, it doesn’t mean we need to have this one.
    2. Do we still need it?
    3. Is everybody ready?
    4. Do we have the right people? (Can we reach a decision without X?)
  7. Am I prepared?(Do we have all the information require to decide?)
    1. Schedule a slot in calendar to do preparation.
    2. Accept or decline meeting in google calendar. (Or you don’t get appropriate reminders.)
    3. Do attendees have all relavent information?
    4. Room booked?
    5. Book meeting room early to set up laptop / projector etc.
  8. Check calendar for the day for back-to-back meetings.
  9. Schedule coffee / bathroom breaks if need be.
  10. Bring interesting healthy food.
  11. Take action minutes
    • Use agenda as template… drive hard at concrete actions and on moving to the next item on the agenda.
  12. Make your point an absolute maximum of two times.
    • Action is a much more effective conflict resolution method than debate.
  13. Suppress noisy contributers. (Whinge at them when they have said the same thing for the third time.)
  14. Reward Silent One contributions with acknowledgement and acceptance.
  15. Look at the following image until perspective returns. http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap060321.html
  16. Get up and leave.
So what’s wrong with meetings anyway?

Some love them, some hate them.

Some people positively enjoy meetings. They are nice chatty social occasions to them. An opportunity to display their wit and enjoy the wit of friends, socialize with peers, climb the corporate ladder, advance their personal objectives, get things decided.

Typically such people are extroverts.

Unfortunately typically extroverts call meetings blissfully unaware that they are inflicting deep psychological pain on their introverted colleagues.

Meetings are broadcast medium.

In a meeting, only one person can be speaking at a time… which is grreat if there is something everyone needs to hear. Very wasteful compared to mutiple pairs of conversation.

Speech is slow.

Introverts often get their entertainment from reading. Which tends to mean they are GOOD at reading.

Which means they can read several times FASTER than you can speak. ie. If you want to broadcast something to introverts… email them.

Post on the internal wiki, but for pity sake don’t bore them to tears painfully slowly SPEAKING.

A 1 hour N-Person Meeting chews N man hours.

If there are N people in an hour long meeting… you better get N hours of value for the company.

Contributions to social interactions are notoriously unevenly distributed.

Observe any social interaction, in any medium you choose….

The “noisiest” person will contribute significantly more words, posts, documents, comments, whatever than the the next most chatty person.

This is not a problem, it is the nature of humanity.

However in a dysfunctional meeting, this hierarchy of contribution is often so steep… that a significant number of attendees are completely silent.

So in a meeting that isn’t a “broadcast information” meeting… the meeting would run exactly the same, and come to exactly the same conclusion if those silent ones weren’t there.

In which case, it is obviously a waste of time forcing those silent ones to attend.

Meeting Survival Guide Don’t have that meeting!

Get up, walk over and have a chat. Send an email. Odds on you don’t need to have a meeting.

Do you need a meeting?

So when should you have a meeting?
  1. When everybody is a Happy Shiny Extrovert and would enjoy it! (Hey, if everybody is loving it… why not!)
  2. When things are falling into the gaps between people’s responsibility.
  3. When a rapid to and fro discussion between parties resulting in a decision is needed.
  4. When you need to broadcast information AND gain immediate feedback about how people FEEL about it. (Note the emphasis on FEEL, if you want to know what people THINK about something, don’t have a meeting. Give them time to think.)
Have a clear purpose for the meeting, and set an Agenda.

Write down in one sentence what you hope to have achieved by the end of the meeting. Put that in the calendar.

If you can’t do that… for pity sake cancel the meeting!

Write down what will be covered in the meeting.

If you expect a decision, make very sure people have the chance to do the appropriate preparation. Check they have done it and postpone if need be.

Otherwise expect a frustrating talk-fest that goes nowhere and concludes in “we don’t know, we will have to investigate”.

Decline that meeting.

We’re friendly, hardworking and polite folk. Somebody asks for a meeting… we say “Yeah sure.”

Don’t. Push back.

If you cannot see a clear purpose for the meeting or an agenda… ask for one.

If you know you don’t have anything valuable to contribute… DECLINE IT WITH A COMMENT!

eg. “Sorry, I don’t think I have anything valuable to add here… I will go with whatever you decide.”

Don’t just not attend.

That leaves everyone else hanging, “We can’t decide on X, we don’t know what Y thinks because he isn’t here.”

Or worse, much much worse, if you just don’t attend a meeting… and then at the next meeting reopen and rehash everything that was painfully sorted out at the previous meeting…. I HATE YOU FOREVER!

If you must do that, DECLINE THE MEETING with the comment that you explicitly want decisions on those matters postponed.

Cancel that meeting.

Not ready yet? Postpone it.

No progress since last time? Cancel it!

Haven’t got the appropriate people in the room to decide… CANCEL IT!

I hate meetings.

I think I mentioned that.

So if I screw up my courage… drag my ass to the torture chamber with a feeling of dread… AND YOU DON’T EVEN SHOW UP!!!!

Yup… I will be angry.

Just cancel it. I’ll heave a sigh of relief and feel my day has taken a leap for the better.

Do your preparation.

If the meeting is to decide on a document… you’ll earn my deep gut hate if your opening remarks are “I didn’t get time to read it all but….”

For pity sake, POSTPONE the meeting, DECLINE the meeting (with comment), SHUT UP or DO YOUR JOB and read it.

I really don’t mind which of those alternatives you take.

I even like it when people postpone a meeting saying, “This document is too broad in scope for me to decide on. Give me an executive summary on the following aspects that concern me, and I will restrict my reading AND remarks to those aspects.”

But “I didn’t get time to read it all but….” will cause my blood pressure to fly through the roof!

(Oh… and don’t think just not using that phrase will save you…

If it is graphically clear you haven’t read it and are jabbering on about things that were clearly handled in that part of the document you haven’t read…. Grrr!)

Be on time.

Being late for a meeting is just plain rude.

Whatever you think may be happening, the messages it sends to other attendees is absolutely clear…

  1. You don’t value this meeting.
  2. You don’t value the work that the other attendees could have been doing.
  3. You don’t value the companies time. (You’re 15 minutes late for a meeting with 10 people? That’s 150 minutes wasted!)

Yes, as a Big Boss Man you may be entitled to be late and make others wait.

Your time is very valuable. I’m comfortable with that.

But just be aware that your actions SHOUT louder than any words you may utter.

If there is an endemic culture of being late for meetings at your company… Why?

Because the previous meeting was running late. Why was it running late? For all the reasons listed in this document!

A smart phone with google calendar integration is a huge aid. Get one.

The obvious corollary to this is Finish on time!

Keep it short or have regular breaks.

A meeting longer than 60 minutes is just plain cruel. If you must, remember “coffee (and/or bathroom) breaks”.

I’m utterly convinced the primary attribute of management is they have concrete buttocks and huge bladders.

Bring Food!

Every culture I have read of has used eating together as a way of removing tension and social bonding. It works.

Coping with the “Silent Ones”.

The obvious solution of “encouraging them to speak” is a Bad Idea.

Why? They are not speaking because…

  1. it is painful to them and
  2. they know anything they say, will, Heaven Forfend, set the noisy ones off repeating themselves YET AGAIN.

The correct solution is for the noisy ones to SAY LESS, to give the Silent Ones an opportunity to speak if they wish.

Be encouraging and accepting of what the Silent Ones do say, if they say.

Make it clear it is acceptable for them to decline (with comment) the meeting if they feel they have nothing to contribute.

Never say anything more than twice.

If it didn’t convince them the last two times, it is not going change them on the third, fourth or fifth pass either.

They have something stuck in their heads that will not let this idea in.

Your choices are limited to finding out what is stuck in their heads and addressing that directly which is a very very difficult error prone task with a high failure rate or…

(Conversely you may have something stuck in your head…. not repeating it will allow it to be dislodged.)

Speak up, propose a concrete action, shut up, do it.

Do you Hate meetings? Do you sit there is silent dread going shutup shutup shutup shutup…. knowing you have seen the issue under discussion come up meeting after meeting after meeting.

Try this… when the meeting seems to be dithering endlessly not seeing the obvious… Speak up, propose a single concrete action. Shut up.

The mistake is trying to force anyone to see your point or take your action. That causes meetings to explode in length.

Rather say your piece, then be quiet again…. Let the meeting end (even if it comes to entirely the wrong conclusion).

Experience shows nine times out of ten, the same issue will be discussed in the next meeting.

Why is this? Because despite everyone having a very strong opinion about it… odds on nobody has DONE anything about it.

Opinions and actions a extremely different classes of entities.

If you really disagree with the conclusion of a meeting, having made your suggestion, heard the opposing arguments, and defended your suggestion….

Stop arguing and just do.

And when the issue comes up at the next meeting, merely mention you have done what you said should be done.

This will set off a furious and very stressful bout of complaints and discussion and they will decide to do something else.

No problem.

Let them… you know they aren’t going to get around to doing anything anyway.

And since you solved the problem, it will fade off the agenda of the next meeting.

Take Action Minutes.

This is a Grreat Tip.

Hate meetings? Take the minutes.

Odds on the Happy Shinies are here for another talkfest and are content if nothing comes out of it.

So take the minutes.

Use a laptop and type them into gmail as the meetings goes, hit send to all attendees at the end of the meeting.

When they have almost decided something.. give them a shove to nail it down.

Say something like “So that will be Action: Joe Bloggs to do XXX.”

I promise you, this is the Best Meeting Survival tip ever.

Neither The Time, The Place, The Attendee List nor Your Presence is Sacred.

Often our notion of “A Meeting” is set by our experience of a Church. And we have a vague uncomfortable feeling that something sacred is going on which we shouldn’t disrupt.

It is not sacred. The meeting time isn’t a sabbath.

The Meeting Place isn’t a consecrated church…. if the sun is shining and the air is fresh and pleasant… get up and have the meeting outside.

The attendees list isn’t blessed.

You really won’t offend any god if you get up and stroll over to the desk of the guy who actually knows the answer… and ask him just to pop in for a few minutes.

This works. Trust me.

Get up and leave.

When you have said all that needs to be said, heard everything everyone else wishes to say, (twice!). And they are beating around the same bush for the third time…

Press “Send” on those action minutes, Quietly pack up your things… (sometimes that’s enough), and then say, “Sorry, I have to go now… I have sent out the minutes. Thanks.”

And on the more humourous side….

At the intersection of Cancel / Walkout / Meet outdoors / Bring Food….

[http://www.kisabird.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/kisabird_051910_durian.jpg](These Durian flavoured (and scented) wafers) will achieve all objectives simultaneously!

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    I feel like this would be better suited as a static page rather than “trapped” in Lobsters.

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      Alas, like 99.999% of humanity, I do not have enough interesting things to say to fill a blog. (Not that stops most bloggers…).

      So I prefer to scribble on the walls of the writable web.

      Sort of like a digital graffiti artist.

      I don’t think Lobsters traps content…. non-users may read Lobster content…. just not contribute.

      If Lobsters is a “Lobster Pot” that “traps” content… May be you should make a “meta” post explaining the problem and suggesting a way of fixing that.

      Personally I think there is a reasonable fit between the “very occasional blogger” and long form text submissions on Lobsters.

      A somewhat related submission https://lobste.rs/s/wcs3px/i_am_done_with_bad_meetings points to a formal wordpress blog with a fair amount of pretty images and videos and podcasts.

      I’m OK with “wall of text with links”.

      Too often too much thought is spent on the pretty and too little on the content.

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        You could stick it in a gist or even a pastebin; that way it’s linkable and it’s clear that it’s expected to stay there semipermanently rather than a “news” post. Or if you’re willing to spend a few seconds more you could write on medium.com; it’s a work of moments to sign up for an account and then just type something there, there’s no need to waste time themeing or picking images or anything like that.

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          that way it’s linkable

          I’m missing something.

          https://lobste.rs/s/umxegq/meeting_survival_checklist

          Seems eminently linkable even if you are not logged in (Just checked).

          Does Lobste.rs delete old posts?