One of the challenges with writing a blog for a long time is it possible to repeat yourself. I’m not talking repetitious themes; I’m talking word for word writing pretty much the same article. Again.
Meetings are on the brain again, so I quickly checked the Rands archives to make sure that I hadn’t already written this piece. During this search, I not only discovered how much I’ve written about meetings, but also that I tend to start those pieces with a single declarative negative statement.
There is deep Rands meeting baggage, but completing this research task, I proved I had not covered the following thought: “Meetings are not for you.”
Meetings Are a Privilege
So is management. It’s a unique set of responsibilities granted on a particular human. Someone somewhere decided that you, yes you, are now a manager that means additional responsibilities including, but not limited to, going to meetings.
Given this article’s opening, you might be wondering why I am calling meetings a privilege. Much of my issues with meetings have to do with waste. It’s the classic engineering assessment of a meeting: _Do you realize how much money we’re spending here wasting all of these humans time? They could have been building something useful._This is why I’ve spent so much time writing about meetings – I desperately want them to be better… more useful… more efficient… for everyone.
The last article I list above triggered writing this one. A community member on the Rands Leadership Slack asked in the #ask-rands-anything channel whether the staff meeting habits I described in Gossip. Rumors and Lies should apply to all meetings.
Yes. Yes definitely. Yes, and why isn’t this obvious? Yes, you should:
- Designate someone to take notes in the meeting.
- Start by reviewing open items from the prior version of this meeting.
- Close the meeting by repeating the decisions, the issues that remain open, and the owners of those issues.
- Send the notes from that meeting to the broadest possible set of appropriate humans after removing confidential or sensitive topics.
If those four bullets don’t feel instinctively the right thing to do for every meeting then you’re like me for the first decade of my management career when I did none of them. My inner dialog was:
- No one should take notes. They should give this meeting their full attention.
- Everyone is an adult here. If we make decisions, they’ll communicate it. If they have a to-do, they’ll do it.
- Finally, don’t worry, the significant developments and decisions of this meeting will organically find the right people in time.
The reality is that everyone in a meeting is experiencing a slightly different version of that meeting because they are all different people. What one human considers important about a conversation or a decision will differ from human to human. With this different interpretation, they – if they remember to do so – will tell their team slightly different things about the results of the meeting. In this somewhat different interpretation scenario, decisions that are meant to clarify a situation will muddle it. The creation of this entropy defeats a significant reason we had the meeting in the first place – to move forward together.
Meetings are a privilege, but the privilege isn’t that you get to go, the privilege is that you get to go to represent your team. This means you show up informed and capable of representing their interests and when the meeting is over that you deftly and capably communicate the results of the meeting to your team.
Worst Meeting… Ever.
I’ve been to all the bad meetings. There’s “This Manager Sure Likes to Listen to Himself Talk” staff meeting. There’s the “We’ve Had This Meeting Forever… and No One Knows Why” status report. Finally, there’s the Silence meeting.
In the Silence meeting, a collection of leaders gather to discuss the latest and greatest something. There’s a silence after someone in that meeting says, “This is a very complicated situation, and I don’t know what to do.” That silence is the humans in the meeting waiting for you, the leader and obvious owner of the situation, to raise your hand and say, “I got it.”
But you don’t. You, like everyone else in the room, know the situation isn’t complicated, it’s horrifically political and a no win scenario, so you choose silence.
Why are you here? You were invited to this meeting as a representative of your team. You are them, and while they are not here, they expect you to lead. You are not protecting your team by avoiding a complicated situation; you are damaging their reputation. They, like you, are now the team that avoids risky situations.
Leaders lead. No matter what.