john cleese, judge, better meetings, Toby Elwin, blog

5 tips to manage better meetings

Meetings Bloody Meetings, John Cleese, Toby Elwin, blog

This judge says, “your meetings are bloody awful”
view below or select to open John Cleese – Meetings, bloody meetings on YouTube

Meetings, meetings, and more meetings. We have meetings to clear up confusion, to communicate, to interact, to make decisions, to listen, and to collaborate.

Too many meetings end without clear decisions and too often it is not until after the meeting is finished that the real conversations begins and people:

  • complain about not being heard,
  • complain about pushy agendas,
  • hold back promised cooperation,
  • complain about lack of involvement

Those type of meetings waste time and create acrimony, which wastes energy. They don’t accomplish anything more than creating more work and derailing collaboration.

Groups are smarter than individuals, but only when groups allow individuals the chance to contribute.

Here are 5 tips to help manage meetings:

  1. Pass out an agenda, with goals, objectives, and actions as well as sources for important information to discuss in the meeting. Pass this out as early as you can, as late as 24 hours ahead of the meeting, if you can. Review the agenda at the start of the meeting. Tie the goals, objectives, and actions to an on-going strategy to remind people the linkage to executive or operational strategy as well as progress
  2. When a new idea is presented, the next person who speaks must support that idea: instead of devil’s advocate, an angel’s advocate
  3. Use meetings to collaborate on risk resolution, not to update people on status or progress; when you count on people to deliver as promised you shift the meeting from accountability to creative collaboration to resolve risk: results. Make sure to assign responsibility and an estimate date to resolve new items. The Project Management Institute defines risk as anything that can positively or negatively impact the outcome; positive risk, called opportunity
  4. Read body language and understand what people are saying through their body language, 80% of communication is body language. Clear communication is the intention of holding meetings. Don’t ignore body language: Before a decision gets made, facilitate group involvement, to include supporting lone dissension or providing time when a teammate is clearly uncomfortable
  5. Build on the ongoing discussion, someone can only signal a change of subject by first asking, is it OK to change the subject…

Getting things done and getting things accomplished are two very different goals. The effort invested to run better meetings is saved from later misunderstanding.

Poorly run meetings may be the root why upwards of 90% of all projects fail.

Is it better to get through a meeting and drive consensus if people don’t commit and don’t understand?   Time is a resource as much as money, and unlike money you can never earn time.

If you take time to guide meeting involvement, with the above suggestions, you will find meetings can become a source for great energy and collaboration, instead of dread and fear.

Make the above suggestions part of your pre-meeting communication, coach and cultivate people to adopt and own their commitment to meeting guidelines.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

3 sources:

  1.  Project Management Institute
  2. John Cleese and his corporate training video:  Meetings, Bloody Meetings

Primal Leadership, Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee

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Comments 2

  1. Toby, another very good post. It seems that we are going down the same path again. Meetings have become ships that set sail with no captain, no destination and no mission.

    My observations on meetings that align with yours:

    1. The structure and function: Everyone takes their own notes and comes away with their own conclusions. Have an agenda is the anchor of every meeting. A day after the meeting most people could not tell you what the key points were or the “big picture” purpose.
    2. The execution: People don’t know how to meet, whether it’s a formal scheduled meeting or an ad hoc meeting people do not know how to conduct themselves at meetings. Interruptions, tangents and distractions are all common place.

    The structure of meetings will be a major part of my presentation Enterprise Information Architecture: IA Out of the Box at the 2010 Information Architecture Summit.

    I will post more information as it becomes available.

    1. Post

      You bring in a few very good symptoms of poor meetings that I believe people live with all-too-comfortably. An intervention is needed: how do meetings improve?

      And the intervention does not include a result that is similar to burning the witch because she does not float.

      In other words: when someone creates structure and relates the function what and when the execution will happen does not make for prosecuting those trying to be responsible.

      Information architecture, can you tell me more, how I might pitch this to have a place to serve the business need?

      Information. Architecture. I like the words, what can I do to identify the need and convey the urgency?

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