This article was based on episode 010 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and Stitcher.
This episode of my podcast, The Modern Manager, is particularly meaningful to me because it focuses on my specialty - how to run more effective meetings. In it, I speak with Elise Keith, co-founder of Lucid Meetings, which helps organizations run day-to-day meetings to power their organizational success. Keith is also the author of the newly released book, Where the Action Is: The Meetings That Make or Break Your Organization, available on Amazon.
BREAKING THE “BAD MEETINGS DOOM LOOP”
Keith coined the phrase, the “Bad Meetings Doom loop,” to describe the negative cultural associations we have about meetings and how that reinforces and creates a negative meeting reality. Think of a doom loop like a vicious cycle. As Keith explains, “You have a negative belief, which causes you to take a negative action, creating a negative behavior, giving you a negative result, reinforcing your negative belief.”
What does this look like for meetings? Since we tend to think negatively about meetings before they even begin (take a look at this article for an example of that), we are less inclined to prepare effectively to lead or participate in them. We show up ill-prepared and with negative associations, so, of course, the meetings run poorly. People talk without directing the conversation toward a purpose and there are no clear outcomes at the end. Participants leave feeling like the meetings were a waste of time.
What if, asks Keith, we change our mindset around meetings so that we regard them in a more positive light? What if we declare,
“My meeting is the place where my work and my culture and my people come together... ‘This is where the action is.’ Then the way in which you approach that meeting changes dramatically, and the results you get also change dramatically. You created a different loop.”
Breaking the Loop by Reframing Meetings
Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp, publicly decried meetings for hurting productivity and banned them from his organization. Or did he? Is it possible his company still has meetings, but they have different names? Yes. Fried uses more engaging names like “Team Crushes” to gather team members to discuss strategy and/or practice sales calls. Taking the word “meeting” out of the calendar and replacing it with a more inspiring phrase can create a positive emotional and psychological state of mind about what’s going to happen in that time together. This is another way to break the “bad meetings doom loop.”
A FLOW OF EFFECTIVE MEETINGS FOR COMPANY LEADERSHIP
Keith discusses 16 individual meeting types in her book, several of which fall into the leadership category. Leadership activities include strategy, problem-solving, decision-making, and the day-to-day tactical operations of the organization. When combined strategically, meetings can guide a leadership team to come together and drive the business, supporting the many different kinds of leadership activities and demands.
The key, explains Keith, is to separate meetings by work purpose. Ask yourself: what are you trying to achieve in that meeting? Once you are clear, you can “develop a whole sequence or a flow of meetings that then run the business” with different rituals and timelines. One of the most important leadership activities is strategic planning, which works well as a “workshop” meeting every three months, once a year, or every five years depending on the size and nature of the organization. Weekly or daily team cadence meetings keep work flowing and identify and eliminate obstacles. A decision-making meeting provides a context in which to formally make large decisions. If a decision-making issue emerges in a cadence meeting, it can be moved to a decision-making meeting and not disrupt the flow of the cadence meeting. These different kinds of meetings all achieve different purposes and work together to move business forward.
Improving Quality of Meeting Outcomes
To accompany the different kinds of meetings and their purposes, Keith teaches companies how to use different processes. For example, check-in processes like agile methodology may be used in cadence meetings while decision-making processes are used in decision-making meetings. The value of creating separate decision-making meetings is of great benefit to leadership teams; instead of rushing to make a decision as soon as issue’s been identified, leadership members know there is a decision-making meeting set in the calendar with the time and space to follow a sequence of steps, such as gathering information or modeling various outcomes, enabling them to reach a higher quality decision. Creating “time by intention… makes a huge difference in the quality of the outcomes,” says Keith.
In her research, Keith has generally found that the more often we meet, the shorter the meetings can be and the faster the work goes. The inverse is true as well - the less we meet, the longer the meetings and the slower the work. Depending on the organization, she recommends a leadership team meet for 60-90 minutes once a week to discuss tactical issues along with five minute daily check-ins. Daily check-ins allow leadership colleagues to help each other get unstuck faster than waiting to bring up an issue at the next weekly tactical leadership meeting.
PURPOSE AND OUTCOME ARE THE FIRST STEPS TO CREATING EFFECTIVE MEETINGS
Every team meeting should accomplish something useful for the team or for the business, says Keith. Ask yourself, ‘What are we going to achieve in this meeting? What will be the outcome, the list of things that come out of this meeting?’ The process we take to get there defines the meeting agenda and structure. Defining the purpose and outcome in advance eliminates ambiguity about which team members should be present.
WELL DESIGNED MEETINGS CREATE A CULTURE OF GROWTH AND RESPECT
Meetings reflect the reality of a company culture, regardless of what the organization’s website professes. Executed well, meetings can teach and inspire new hires about an organization. Says Keith,
“Effective culture is about respect and accountability. Do we honor each other's time? Do we follow through on our commitments? The place where you can see that is in a really well designed regular team meeting.”
Are the meetings in your organization well-designed? How can they improve? This week, take one action based on or inspired by this episode to create a more effective meeting culture.
This article was based on episode 010 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter. Join the Modern Manager community on Patreon and get additional exclusive resources and services.
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