Meetings…. boooo

When was the last time you heard someone praise a meeting they had just attended. You do hear this from time to time, but it’s rare at best. Most meetings feel like an emotional and intellectual brain suck. You leave frustrated, de-motivated and often times heavily burdened with lots of new shtuff you have to do. I think of the scene from Joe Vs. The Volcano where Tom Hanks is complaining about the florescent lights that are “sucking the life” out of him at work.

I recently read the short book Read This Before Our Next Meeting by Al Pittampalli. He does a great job describing how we can completely overhaul the way we meet. Matthew May in does a great job in giving a succinct overview of the book.


Guru Review: Read This Before Our Next Meeting

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August 30, 2011

Al Pittampalli is on a modern day crusade against the tyranny of the traditional business meeting. He’s the founder of The Modern Meeting Company, a small business that helps organizations transform meetings, make decisions and coordinate complex teams. He’s written a short manifesto called Read This Before Our Next Meeting, the fourth original book offering from The Domino Project.

“The traditional meeting has held us hostage for too long,” he writes. “It’s wasted our time, energy, and drained from us the aliveness that makes work exciting and fulfilling. And for our organizations, the traditional meeting gets in the way of important decisions that need to be made for forward momentum. It forces our organization to walk, when we all have the burning desire to run.”

Who hasn’t suffered what Patrick Lencioni called “death by meeting” in his fable by the same name? Meetings—not to be confused with conversations, group work sessions or brainstorming sessions—basically suck the life out of people. Lencioni called the conventional meeting “the most painful problem in business.”

Pittampalli would agree, and breaks the problem down this way: “We have too many meetings. We have too many bad meetings. Traditional meetings create a culture of compromise. Traditional meetings kill our sense of urgency.”

The solution, he suggests, is “The Modern Meeting Standard.”

Big idea:

Modern meetings must be structured so that bold decisions happen often and quickly, and those decisions are converted into fearless forward movement. “The Modern Meeting optimizes for the decision,” writes Pittampalli.

Key takeaways:

Pittampalli offers a new meeting standard supported by seven principles that must become practice.

1. The Modern Meeting supports a decision that has already been made.

If a decision maker needs advisement pre-decision, he should get it from others via one-on-one conversations. Only after a preliminary decision is made can a meeting be convened. A meeting might be necessary for either of two reasons: conflict or coordination.

2. The Modern Meeting moves fast and ends on schedule.

Enforce meeting end times to ensure that the resolution and implementation of decisions aren’t delayed needlessly. The meeting ends, a decision is resolved and participants get back to work. Message: “If you are late, we will start without you. And we won’t invite you next time.”

3. The Modern Meeting limits the number of attendees.

Only people who are critical to the outcome are invited. Small numbers allow decisions to be resolved quickly and plans to be coordinated smoothly. If invited attendees recognize that they don’t need to be there, it’s their obligation to decline.

4. The Modern Meeting rejects the unprepared.

An agenda is distributed well in advance, and it establishes the decision being debated or the action being coordinated. This demands you think carefully through all the different scenarios presented by the decision and come up with thoughtful responses. Message: “We will call on you. If you are not prepared, do not attend.”

5. The Modern Meeting produces committed action plans.

What actions are we committing to? Who is responsible for each action? When will those actions be completed? The Modern Meeting ensures that these questions are answered, and distributes the resulting action plan soon after the meeting ends. It’s the meeting leader’s responsibility to follow up and hold participants accountable for their commitments. If no action plan is necessary, neither is a meeting.

6. The Modern Meeting refuses to be informational. Reading memos is mandatory.

In order to keep modern meetings strictly in support of decisions, informational meetings are cancelled. For this to be possible, managers will write memos instead, but everyone must commit to reading them. In a culture of reading, informational meetings are no longer necessary.

7. The Modern Meeting works only alongside a culture of brainstorming.

The Modern Meeting is about decision, the narrowing of options. Brainstorming is the necessary complement, as it results in the mass generation of options. Brainstorming has to be done correctly, though. It’s an anti-meeting, so the regular rules of the Modern Meeting don’t apply.

Liked most:

Being a sucker for simplicity and subtraction, the 30 minutes it takes to read Read This Before Our Next Meeting is appreciated. And, as I’m lucky enough to find most of my work outside of meetings, facilitating group work sessions or brainstorms, I appreciated the author’s spot-on brainstorming ground rules, which any expert facilitator worth a salt should agree with: 1) invite people passionate about the idea, 2) no criticism, 3) number the ideas, 4) use a timer, 5) have fun, 6) bodystorm…get active, 7) clear focus, 8) strong facilitator or expert, 9) VP of “NO” not invited, 10) capture everything.

Best for…

Anyone dreading their next meeting.

What people are saying:

“There’s a big difference between talking about doing something and actually doing it. If you’ve ever been in a meeting whose sole purpose was to plan for another meeting, you NEED this book.” – Josh Kaufman, author of The Personal MBA


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