Here in New York City, we know something about marathons. The NYC Marathon rightfully is famous as one of the sporting highlights of the year. It takes an enormous amount of dedication and effort on the part of participants and organizers alike to prepare for and complete this marathon.
Unfortunately, NYC also hosts another type of marathon, which occurs daily. It's the "meeting marathon." Worse still, NYC isn't the only town with this sporting event. We've all been in a meeting marathon -- the ultimate corporate test of endurance and, in some cases, sanity. Folks have responded by ignoring the discussion at the meeting and focusing instead on buzzword bingo, texting, doodling, daydreaming ... you get the picture.
I've written about meetings being the credible alternative to work. However, there are times when holding a meeting is exactly the right thing to do. For example, if you're trying to implement innovation by teamwork, a meeting will undoubtedly be necessary at some point. So what should you do? To begin with, be very sure that the person who is calling the meeting actually knows how to run a productive meeting. By this I don't mean that they can convene a meeting without chairs or use some similar gimmick. Too often, the only thing these approaches ensure is that the participants are uncomfortable. They don't necessarily result in a high-quality productive meeting.
Here are some proven techniques for delivering a productive meeting:
- set a clear time frame and stick to it -- this is useful discipline
- be sure the purpose of the meeting is publicized and understood
- realize that the very act of asking the key question changes the outcome of the discussion
- make preparatory materials available before the meeting
- identify potential issues/hurdles and try to address them before the meeting
- understand the constituencies that will be participating -- where they sit in the organization will determine where they stand on the issue you're discussing
- decide whether the goal is to air issues, test a proposal, reach a consensus or close out a discussion and then structure the meeting accordingly
- be clear whether you need a neutral facilitator or a facilitator who actual advocates for a particular position
- be sure you have a meeting facilitator who has the social skills and discipline to help move the conversation along without unnecessarily offending participants
There is no substitute for good preparation. In fact, the quality of preparation is almost always reflected in the quality of the meeting. Chances are that every meeting marathon you've ever attended lacked adequate preparation or was chaired by someone who did not have the necessary skills and focus. Thankfully, preparation, skills and focus can all be addressed and improved. There is no longer any need to waste time at meeting marathons. Insist on productivity!
[Photo courtesy of the City of New York]