Read This Before Our Next Meeting

Summary Written by Parin Patel
"Over time, we’ve become nonchalant about bad meetings. If an operating room were as sloppily run as our meetings, patients would die. If a restaurant kitchen put as little planning into a meal as we put into our meetings, dinner would never be served."

- Read This Before Our Next Meeting, page 3

The Big Idea

Ditch Traditional Meetings

"I wonder when we’ll realize what a trap we’ve set for ourselves. Regularly interrupting the day to bring our best minds together to focus on the urgent makes it impossible for these people to spend their focused energy on what’s actually important."- Read This Before Our Next Meeting, page 11

“Traditional meetings”, as Al writes, tend to “create a culture of compromise” and “kill our sense of urgency” because more often than not, we have a habit of calling meetings that fall in one of three categories:

Convenience Meetings: “Meetings called because it’s difficult to capture everything we want to say effectively in writing, quickly. These meetings rarely add any more value than a memo would have.”

Formality Meetings: “Meetings called by managers who think it’s their job to hold them. It doesn’t matter whether these meetings are designed to give off the appearance of control and productivity, or whether they’re a way for managers to subtly exert their status; in either case, these meetings are wasteful.”

Social Meetings: “Meetings for the purpose of connection. We sometimes call social meetings without realizing it… Unfortunately, social meetings quickly turn circular and expand to fit the time. You might want to slow down and chat, but perhaps not everyone in the room has the same goals (or time) that you do.”

These types of meetings, quite frankly, can be big time wasters.
And we can’t afford to waste any more time (because time, of course, waits for no one).

So how can we be more effective with our meetings?
By following the Seven Principles of Modern Meetings…

Insight #1

Follow The Seven Principles of Modern Meetings

"Meetings need to be less like the endless commercial breaks during a football game, and more like pit stops at the Daytona 500."- Read This Before Our Next Meeting, page 14

1) The Modern Meeting supports a decision that has already been made.
“The Modern Meeting focuses on the only two activities worth convening for: conflict and coordination”.

2) The Modern Meeting moves fast and ends on schedule.
“Strong deadlines force parties to resolve the hard decisions necessary for progress… With too much time, even the most unshakable decision will be reconsidered.”

3) The Modern Meeting limits the number of attendees.
“In the Modern Meeting, we invite only the people who are absolutely necessary for resolving the decision that has been prepared.”

4) The Modern Meeting rejects the unprepared.
“Preparing an agenda involves thinking through what’s going to happen at the meeting – what the objectives are, who should be invited, what they should bring, and how long the meeting will last. Second, agendas establish the decision that is being discussed and elicits feedback and suggestions.”

5) The Modern Meeting produces committed action plans.
“In the Modern Meeting, minutes are not required. We don’t need to know the details of what happened at the meeting, because it’s the same thing that happens at every Modern Meeting: conflict and coordination. All we need to know is the decision and the resulting action plan.”

6) The Modern Meeting refuses to be informational. Reading memos is mandatory.
“All too often, I send out an important e-mail message, only to have them be read by just a few people. The Modern Meeting cannot survive in an organization that fails to read. We must keep meetings about decisions. They must stay sacred. The only way to do so is to cancel informational meetings.”

7) The Modern Meeting works only alongside a culture of brainstorming.
“The brainstorm is so crucial to the success of the Modern Meeting… We also need sessions dedicated to the creation of possibilities. A place where the imagination is allowed to roam free and generate a plethora of ideas, from which innovation can be born.”

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Insight #2

Make A Decision

"In the Modern Meeting, the decision is King. All hail the King."- Read This Before Our Next Meeting, page 33

Central to the Modern Meeting is a focus, and bias, towards decisive action. But before the Modern Meeting can take place, there are two important decisions you need to make:

1) Do I need to schedule a meeting?
We often hold meetings to make decisions because we’re afraid of making, and owning, the decision ourselves. This isn’t acceptable with the Modern Meeting.

Before you schedule a meeting, make a decision on the topic at hand. If you need input from others, speak to them on a one-on-one basis. Once you’ve made a decision, call a meeting to support that decision through conflict (to allow for a debate in conflicting opinions if you’re open to altering your decision) and/or coordination (coordinate with the necessary people to carry out the decision).

2) Do I need to attend this meeting?
Each time you’re invited to a meeting, ask yourself these four questions:

a) Will you be able to function if you read about the meeting after it’s over?
b) If you are given the decision we’re discussing in advance, can you give me your opinion in advance?
c) Do you add any value by sitting in the meeting without participating?
d) Are you attending symbolically or simply as a way to demonstrate your power?

“If you have no strong opinion, have no interest in the outcome, and are not instrumental for any coordination that needs to take place, we don’t need you,” writes Pittampalli. “From now on, if you’re invited to a meeting where you don’t belong, please don’t attend.”

Anybody working on a project that they care deeply about, and as Seth Godin says, want to ship, should follow The Modern Meeting Standard. Unnecessary and poorly organized, and run, meetings are a big roadblock to getting any real work done – and it’s time we put a stop to it.

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Al Pittampalli

Al Pittampalli is founder of The Modern Meeting Company, a group that helps organizations transform meetings, make decisions, and coordinate complex teams. As an IT advisor at Ernst & Young LLP, Al witnessed the meeting problem firsthand at Fortune 500 companies all across the country. Now, Al is part of a new generation that brings fresh eyes to stuck business systems. Al is a speaker and blogger on making revolutionary change happen and is a graduate of the NYU Stern School of Business.

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