Scheduling Meetings is Not the Same as Planning Them

The Good:
Microsoft Outlook, iCal, and other software packages or apps make it incredibly easy to schedule meetings on other people's calendars.

The Bad:
As a colleague astutely observed yesterday, scheduling a meeting is not the same as planning one.

And therein lies the problem.  People have come to equate the two.

Some people detest meetings in general.  Authors like Patrick Lencioni (Death by Meeting) have written about how painful they can be.  Let me differ, raise my hand, and come out of the closet: I like them.

I like connecting with my colleagues and seeing my ideas be made better by their insights and diverse perspectives.  I like collaborating with others and producing results greater than what any one individual might have created.  I like being a part of a gathering that brings out the best in each participant and uses a process that is often enjoyable and … dare I say it … sometimes even fun.

But I do hate meetings that suck … suck away my time, my passion, my commitment, and my enthusiasm … and do the same to others.  And that occurs too often because people merely schedule meetings, they don't sufficiently plan them.

Imagine instead this scenario: 
The same software that schedules the meetings also has a built-in feature that automatically removes the meeting from everyone's calendars if one week in advance a meeting agenda and all appropriate background materials have not been electronically distributed and logged.

For every meeting the software automatically polls participants at the meeting's conclusion.  Results are aggregated anonymously and distributed to all participants.  A possible poll might look like this.
On a scale of 1-5 (1=lowest, 5=highest) please rate the following:
  • Agenda and other advance materials
  • Value produced/decisions reached as a result of the meeting
  • Productive use of time during the meeting
  • Effectiveness of meeting leader or facilitator
  • Overall meeting satisfaction
Summary scores are automatically posted online for every meeting in the organization held as are the results for each individual who convenes meetings. Conveners' scores are part of their annual performance appraisal. Ongoing training and development and utilization of software and graphic facilitation templates that facilitate meeting planning and more productive conversations would be implemented organization-wide. Individuals whose scores fall significantly below the average organization meeting score would have their convening rights limited until they complete a more in-depth meeting planning and facilitation skills course and receive one-on-one coaching.

Reality check:
We're going to continue to have meetings, conference calls, planning sessions, webinars, and video chats.  We need to fully honor that if we expect others to come and be 100% focused and engaged in what we have scheduled then we must respect the commitment of their time and talents by doing the advance preparation required.

If you can't follow the rules of the road, you get your driving license revoked.  If you can't follow basic guidelines for planning an effective meeting, your privilege to convene them should be curtailed, or I should feel free to pass on participation and not be punished in any way for making more productive use of my time.

Credit to the JBRH BrainTrust for inspiring this post.


Roxanne Persaud @commutiny said...

Good article, great principle but rather one-sided for me.

Lots of stick here, not much carrot. Automation and closed responses less likely to facilitate positive change than open conversation, sharing common concerns & suggesting solutions. Only takes 5 mins, built into beginning/end of meeting.

One way of generating more honoured and respect is by making meetings *more* human. Your ratings system is at the mercy of the office culture which creates stultifying meetings in the first place.

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Thanks for commenting Roxanne and pointing out that making meetings more human is important.

The post wasn't meant to be comprehensive as I intentionally focused on how meetings currently are automated and how they could better be automated in the future.

Large organizations that hold lots of meetings often live and die by standard processes and metrics. I don't think those necessarily have to be seen as sticks or carrots.

If we're going to do anything repeatedly throughout an organization it is good to have some shared understanding o, and commitment to, how to do them well and then evaluate whether or not we are achieving our intended results.

Roxanne Persaud @commutiny said...

I suspect we are marching in the same direction. Reckon it would be nice to see how others would adapt your suggested poll choices.

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

I think we probably are Roxanne. I'm always most concerned with what will it take to help move things forward (using Edgar Schein's language) and like many things, I imagine more effective meetings require a multi-faceted solution.