Thursday, December 24, 2009

First Time - Part 12: Holding Meetings

You're the boss, which means you both hold meetings (you're in charge), and you go to meeting (you're one of the folks being 'talked at.') In both cases you have an opportunity to shape the meetings. And meetings can either be productive or a terrible waste of time and effort (and money). Consider the following:

There are five general types of meetings:

Information – This is the most basic of meetings. The daily meeting (discussed earlier) is a version of this meeting. Its purpose is to tell people something. This meeting can also be used as a means of large-scale communication. Leadership can use these meetings in a 'town hall' setting to answer questions and get the word out. As a rule, information meetings should be kept to about 30 minutes, though town halls may run to an hour; longer than that and you will start to lose people. Information meetings should avoid issues. When contentious issues come up that require specific debate, note it, move on, and then revisit the issue with the relevant parties. Use a later information meeting to keep everyone informed about that issue.

Lectures are not meetings; meeting share information, lectures allow an expert to teach. Don't confuse the two. If you have an expert that is going to give a lecture, don'tmake it part of the meeting; schedule a lecture.

Decision meetings. These are tightly focused meetings, and are normally short in duration and have a very limited audience. Hard decisions are rarely made with more than a few people in the meeting. Most senior leaders will make a decision with just their deputy or chief of staff, their senior officer for the relevant department, and perhaps a legal representative. In the military you will often find the commander, the deputy (or chief of staff), and the operations officer are the only ones in the room when decisions are made. The intelligence officer and the JAG (Judge Advocate General – the lawyer) may also be in the room. These meetings need to be kept to an absolute minimum number of attendees. Very few decision-makers are comfortable making decisions with lots of people around. (Dr. An Wang, founder of WANG, noted that no decisions are made if there are more than 8 people in the room. My experience has been that that is an accurate statement.)

Post Decision meetings. Many leaders will use a public meeting to 'stage' a decision. Having already decided what they are going to do, they then review the 'bidding' in a larger venue and 'make' the decision in front of everyone. This is properly speaking theater, but it can be very effective in done properly. If your boss is going to do that and you're running the meeting, you need to know so that you make sure the situation is 'teed up' and doesn't go astray. Remember, bosses do this to make sure that the word gets out and so that they can look in charge and communicate to the organization that they are in charge.

Planning meeting. Planning meetings are for planning teams, and really are group work sessions rather than meetings. If you are part of the planning team you should be there, if not, you should not be there unless they need your expertise. Planning meetings can literally last days or weeks.

The 'meeting' meeting. These are meetings that are held for the purpose of getting everyone in the same room at the same time on a periodic basis. The formal discussion and agenda aren't really terribly important. Rather, it is an effort by the boss to stimulate and sustain cross–pollination in the organization. One of the finest leaders I have ever met or worked for, General Gary Luck, used this kind of meeting to great effect, bringing all his senior staff and component officers into a meeting once a week to ensure that he saw them all and they all saw each other and talked. The result was much greater integration of his organization, at a remarkably low cost in time and manpower.

Final thoughts:

It is best not to mix types of meetings – really.
Set an agenda and stick to it.
Set time limits and stick to them.


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