Have too many people in a meeting and it sucks. Everyone knows this!
The problem is that the reverse is often worse. Not having enough people in the meetings. Why? You end up with a cascade of a ton of meetings.
If you have people in a meeting you are taking them away from something else they can be doing. If you have this noble realization you are paranoid about the number of folks that you invite to a meeting. You don’t want to waste anyones time.
The perfect meeting has the smallest number of people who can make the right decision and disseminate the outcomes to the people that need to know of them.
Well, wait a minute, are all meetings equal?
No. There are actually different types of meetings, with different styles and goals. Is the meeting to get info across to a set of people? Are you looking to have a “working meeting” (hilarious term) to actually tackle a problem?
We have all been in those meetings where you wonder “why am I here? couldn’t this info be sent in an email?” These are painful and a huge waste of time for a team. They normally fall into the “lecture” format, having someone up front telling you some information. This isn’t engaging, and you sitting there doesn’t add value.
Don’t these sometimes remind you of lectures at school? Weren’t those classes painful too? Yes. Fortunately, we are starting to see some changes to the way that we teach, such as flip teaching.
Instead of having a professor lecture a large number of seated students (as they maybe try to stay awake), instead the resources (which could even be a recording of the lecture) are available before hand. The students are expected to have gone through the information, and then the classroom time is spent with engaging conversation. Don’t just take the info as rote truth, argue! What don’t you understand? Maybe you can go through some problems together? Much more engaging and practical.
Imagine if your next all hands was handled that way? Instead of some execs getting up on stage, what if you had been given a handout and could then come in and ask questions? Make the time worth while?
If you can’t? Don’t have the meeting.
Solving the problem with the right problem solvers
When you have the “too small” meetings, you are really seeing that the right problem solvers for the situation aren’t in the room. Meeting One ends up with one conclusion, but that decision gets messaged down the chain and someone with good information points out how that can’t actually work. You now end up bouncing around as sub-meetings are created to gather more info and you get into a cycle that ends up with a huge number of meetings.
The original person had their heart in the right place but inadvertently created a cascading storm. Whoops.
I have been trying to capture decisions along with the data that was the basis of said decisions. I have found that over time a team can second guess, or come around to the same questions again and again. Revisiting something isn’t all bad, as the context and data may have changed, but having an audit trail enables me to tighten the cycle “anything changed? nope… ok can move on!”
It has been fun to see more teams use tools such as Slack to jump into vs. F2F meetings or email. There is a place for the different tools, but we seem to be getting a little better at choosing the right tool for the job.
This is critical as I really want to have people more able to focus on productive work vs. wasteful meetings. This doesn’t mean that meetings are all bad, as it is critical to have a shared consciousness in your team.
The cost of creating a meeting request in your calendar app doesn’t quite map to the potential productivity cost, so if you aren’t vigilant your time is taken from you.
The battle for balance continues.