Meetings About Meetings: Yea or Nay?
by Patricia Milton
Over on the excellent RethinkHr.org blog, Benjamin McCall writes a thoughtful post on meetings (with a bonus dollop of hilarity at the end).
In "Meetings Can Be Unbearable," Benjamin laments purposeless meetings as time-wasting and dull. No argument here! His examples include meetings with no agenda (disastrous, generally), and meetings to which you’re invited for no apparent reason.
There is one area in Benjamin’s list of "unbearable" meetings with which I can't agree, though — and that is the "meeting to prepare for a meeting." In my experience, preparation meetings can be critical to achieving the results you need. I can think of dozens of examples where preparation meetings-before-the-meeting are essential. Here are just a few:
- Any meeting where decisions involving multiple stakeholders will be made, especially on a contentious issue. Planning for the meeting may involve individual stakeholder interviews to understand the various points of view and to understand what represents a "win" for each individual. It definitely will involve a pre-meeting to design the input-gathering and decision making process. You don’t want to show up and "wing it" with 25 irritated VPs whose futures will be affected by the outcome.
- A leader's first meeting with a new team. A pre-meeting with the outgoing team leader to get context and understanding of any issues in play will be vital to a smooth transition.
- High stakes meetings: the kinds of meetings where it simply won't do to fly by the seat of your pants. One example: a sales meeting with a potential client, for a deal worth a couple million dollars. Wouldn’t you have one — or even a few — pre-meetings to prepare for that?
Unnecessary meetings are a drag, but not all pre-meetings are unnecessary. In fact, some preparation meetings may help you decide you don’t even need that meeting you were planning. Builders design a blueprint before constructing a house. Athletic teams draw up a game plan before going out on the field. For the same reasons, meeting leaders need to create a plan for their meeting. And sometimes that planning takes shape in a meeting. The way we like to put it is, "Go slow to go fast." The time spent in planning a meeting will pay off as the meeting runs more smoothly, takes less time, and gets the job done.
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