Earlier this year I published several posts on meetings, uncovering some reasons why they can be a waste of time, or why they can be productive. This subject has many more perspectives than seen on the surface, and today I'd like to highlight one basic idea.
Any meeting includes the following 3 components, and its success would depend on how well those components fit together:
Problem — issues to be addressed;
Goal — the desired outcome;
People — they need to have a shared understanding of problems and goals.
The quirky green-red thing in the middle is supposed to visualize the volatility of the conjunction.The notorious feel of wasted time at meetings is usually related to the bad cohesion of those 3 components.
The so-called technical meetings is where the components fit best. Such meetings can happen on the fly as 2-3 experts discuss a clearly outlined technical problem, looking for a clearly outlined goal. This is straightforward, the technical problems are obvious, they are discussed openly, and with focus. The "instant" meetings always have the right people due to the very nature of the subject matter. This is a perfect setup, as all the three components share an overlap.
Misfits begin when at least one of the components breaks loose from the nucleus. This usually happens at decision-making meetings (non-technical). If not all people have a good understanding of the subject matter, however valuable their input might be, it would take extra time to bring them on the same page with the others. In this case, it would be reasonable to narrow down the selection of the participants OR take some time before the meeting to educate them. We all must have been at meetings where 3+ people are waiting until someone is catching up with what all the rest understand. The 3+ people are getting impatient and irritated while this education process takes place. It's not bad to explain things to people though. But this has to be done elsewhere, at some other "educational" meeting, not at the decision-making one.
Next, the integrity of meetings is ruined by blurred goals. For non-technical meetings, the goal should clearly be identified as one of the following: is this meeting supposed to uncover any missing facts to back up the decision, or is it purely a decision-making meeting? Some strategic decisions might require a series of prep meetings, until it gets down to taking a group decision.
The key to successful decision-making meetings would be this: try to make them technical. Cut them down into pieces, and bring together as few people as possible to resolve a clearly outlined problem, with a clear goal in mind. It's more effective and reasonable to break the subject matter into smaller problems, address them in turn, and take to the next decision-making level, and to the next meeting. The PGP abbreviation in the name of the post implies this approach with the play on words: PGP=Pretty Good Privacy.
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