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Chances are your day will include a meeting. Our condolences. If it’s like most meetings it will drag you away from something else you were in the middle of. It’ll be held up by that one colleague who just has to make a coffee first, keeping everyone in awkward silence while the milk froths. The PowerPoint will develop an interesting issue that the IT guy has never seen before, leaving the projection screen ruthlessly frozen on your holiday selfie wallpaper. Nice togs btw. Then someone will phone in on the loudest speakerphone in the world, saying things no one can understand in a voice like a rampaging tuba, and you’ll handle it by avoiding eye contact with everyone else. Well played, until the follow up email arrives and it turns out you all silently agreed to be relocated to Kuala Lumpur. The meeting crawls on; millennia pass, civilisations rise and die, yet when it’s finally over it’s only 11am and too early for lunch.
When not busy propping up authoritarian governments, McKinsey & Co have someinteresting things to say about running meetings. They suggest getting more clarity by being specific about what they’re for. Sounds radical, we know, but bear with us. Is this meeting for sharing, discussing, or deciding? If you do come to a decision, will the thing you decided actually happen, or will your sense of achievement crumble when you discover you never really had a say anyway? If the expected result is clear at the outset, the meeting can work more swiftly towards it. Identify who the decision makers are and have them in the room – if you don’t know who they are or they can’t make it, cancel the meeting
The McKinsey article asks a provoking question, one that you’ve almost certainly asked yourself a thousand times: should we even be meeting at all? Could you send an informative group email instead? Maybe. Or maybe it’s crucial that the information gets through, and you can’t be sure the email will be read. In the case of decision meetings, the article suggests the terrifying option of delegating resolutions to a single person who can consult with colleagues before deciding. This is efficiency on an almost Orwellian scale. Maybe meetings aren’t so bad after all.
There are many different types of meeting. We’ve moved beyond the conference room, often literally. Here are a few of the common culprits and what to look out for.
AKA walking meetings, where you actually have to go for a walk at the same time as talking about work, so a bit like popping out for a sandwich with your deskmate but less bitchy. Walking meetings are supposed to remove the intimidating sense of hierarchy imposed by desks and eye contact. Increasingly common, to the extent that the Guardian recommends an end to high heeled shoes at the office. This HBR article has some good tips for the walk and talk.
Not nearly as funny as the name implies. Standing group meetings are now the norm for many teams, meant to encourage brevity and an informal atmosphere that provokes more honest, active engagement. The brevity is appreciated, but the result more closely resembles a hunched, skulking circle of frightened wildebeests hypnotised by a lion at the watering hole. Plus, they're not suitable for everyone. Find out why here.
Bored. Room. The old school meeting, the one you pictured in your head when you opened this email. A central table in pine veneer. Some drunk-looking swivelly chairs splayed towards a screen. A trapdoor in the table or floor vomiting cables that don’t work. Everyone knows that meetings held here will involve a clunky presentation, unflattering light and someone’s swivelly chair squeaking madly. The best you can hope for is an exciting room booking clash and a reprieve for a day or so while you reschedule. Your space affects your meeting so make it work for you. Check out some meeting room inspiration here.
At The Pickering Group we know meetings happen, whether you like it or not. The trick is to approach the menace consciously, increasing engagement and efficiency and decreasing waste: the waste of the presenter’s time spent preparing and rehearsing a communication doomed to fall into the void, and the waste of the attendee’s time and goodwill. War can be hell but meetings don’t have to be.
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