Being inspired

Sometimes I write things on this blog that am almost ashamed to admit it took me years to realise. I find that the great revelations for me appear not as a flash of light but a slap on the forehead. The corollory of that is that I also hesitate to tell you guys what I learned because...well.... you probably all worked it out long ago....


The purpose of meetings...

I was inspired by this post at 43 folders to start thinking about meetings. I seem to be at different meetings to most people, perhaps because I have the luxury of running many of the ones I attend. Many posters complained that meetings they were attending were boring or irrelevant. I may be a bit hard-assed here, but I feel that you should then be questioning  the purpose of the meeting. It is highly professional to say respectfully and without malice that a meeting is not relevant to you.

Of course being able to say that with conviction depends on knowing the purpose of the meeting! My favourite question for starting any meeting is, "why are we doing this? What do we hope to achieve?". You would not believe how often people give me blank looks or contradictory answers. Do not back down from this question. You need to quickly determine the purpose of the meeting, so that you can work out what your outcome is. If you cannot see any useful outcome inside the meeting then state that in a respectful way and depart: you will be more productive elsewhere.

Another benefit of asking the why question is that it gives everyone a common focus. If a number of people do not agree on the desired outcome then you need to have that conversation before trying to decide anything else. Everyone needs to be pulling in more-or-less the same direction!

Once the outcome is clear the job of the chair is much easier: it is to ensure that everyone remains focussed on achieving the outcome agreed to at the beginning. Having clarity about purpose, is crucial: it allows her to decide whether what is being said is germane. If we all know that we are deciding how to handle a specific risk to the project, rough-up figures for the product introduction or choose a training programme for next year it will be clear when someone is going down a "rabbit trail" and you can close them down without friction.

I also feel that I have an obligation towards any meeting I attend: I must ensure that I understand what is going on or I shall not be able to contribute usefully. That is why I ask questions about anything I do not understand.

Finally, at the end of the meeting, you can check whether you achieved your outcome.

That is the quality check: did we do enough in this meeting or are there more actions needed to achieve the desired outcome? What next-actions did we define, for who? Do not wait until the last minute to call for next-actions, it always takes a little while to get that clarified.

Question for you fine folks: how do you keep meetings on track? What are your golden rules?


Ask the dumb question...

Every now and then something goes past in a meeting that I do not understand. When that happens I ask for an explanation, for help. I had to train myself to do that even when I was afraid of looking dumb. Please ask the question. I have had so very, very many experiences in which I said “forgive my limited knowledge, but what is that actually” and it added value.

  1. Sometimes I discovered that I was behind the curve and needed to educate myself about content others took for granted.
  2. Much,much more often I discovered that at least two other people were mystified too. Then it becomes efficient to inform all of us. It also prevents…
  3. On a number of occasions I got conflicting responses from different corners of the meeting. That is a situation which gives you an opportunity to increase quality and eliminate misunderstandings downstream.

How well is your presentation going?

Birmingham University in the UK used to have something called a "lecture cube" for gauging the speed or uptake of a lecture. It was red on two sides, white on two more and green on the remaining two.

Depending on how the students placed them on their desks, the lecturer would see a field of colour in the audience that would let him know if he was too fast/obscure (red) or too slow (white). Green meant just right...

This sounds like a device that would be useful in big meetings. Looking around the room and seeing a lot of red would mean you have wandered off topic.