The quality of an organization’s meetings often suggests the quality of the organization’s overall work. Like effective organizations, effective meetings have clearly defined roles and objectives.
There are four primary objectives for meetings:
- Solving a problem/coming to a decision;
- Introducing key information synchronously and dynamically;
- Generating the best and greatest number of original ideas;
- Gaining commitment around a change effort.
The objective should determine the type of meeting: decision-making, informational, creative, or motivational. And the type of meeting should dictate the advance preparation, the participants, and their roles.
It sounds simple enough, but too often leaders just hold “a meeting.” In today’s post, I’ll go into detail about each type of meeting, so that their distinctions are clear.
Objective: solving a problem/coming to a decision
If you want to solve a problem or come to a decision, meeting participants should arrive informed about the decision/problem, how the decision will be made, and what their role is in the process. Participants should feel like they have both enough information to make the decision and enough time to have fully processed it; they should not be informed in the meeting itself. In general, the more work the leader and facilitator do to define the problem before the meeting, the more effective the meeting will be…and the greater the likelihood that the group will solve the key underlying problem, not just the one(s) that first occur to them.
In preparing for decision-making meetings, leaders and facilitators need to assess and evaluate their own limitations, assumptions, and biases. These biases may stem from stress, the input of a particular expert, or perhaps the frequency and recency of others’ opinions. In order to avoid these biases and to test the accuracy of their own assumptions, leaders and facilitators should seek a range of input. They ought not to share too much stakeholder analysis at the meeting, however. They don’t want to overload participants with a slew of choices and information that aren’t directly relevant to the decision or problem at hand. The meeting’s leader and facilitator should act as filters.
Planning meetings (both short- and long-term) fall under the category of decision-making meetings. Long-term planning should happen once a year and include customer and employee surveys, second-party research, and a very deliberate process that identifies the organization’s key strengths, opportunities, weaknesses, and threats. These meetings should develop or drive back to the values, mission, and vision of the organization. Here again, the leader and facilitator should filter out unimportant information and present the key data in advance.
Short-term planning typically happens on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis. The purpose of short-term planning meetings is two-fold: to see if you are on target with your long-term strategic plan, and to pre-decide how you will act should certain assumptions come to pass with regard to environmental changes.
Questions to consider when organizing a decision-making meeting:
- Who is the decider(s)? This should be declared either right as the meeting begins or (ideally) well in advance, in order to set the group’s expectations;
- Who needs to be involved in the decision?
- Who is affected by the problem?
- Who has important information? Oftentimes organizations don’t have all the expertise in-house and should be prepared to have experts provide support for these types of meetings.
- Who will be part of the implementation?
- Who can give an outsider’s perspective? In The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki explains how an outsider can help elevate decision-making by helping uproot faulty assumptions.
Objective: introducing key information synchronously and dynamically
If the only goal is to provide information that can be read and easily understood, send a report or presentation to everyone. Things that can be done asynchronously should be done that way. The traditional model of learning–with a speaker disseminating information to a passive audience–has been proven ineffective. The best informational meetings are dynamic. After information has been shared (or even while it’s being shared), the group or team should engage in breakout discussions (or by electronically registering their responses in real-time). The greater the interactivity, the greater the comprehension, collaboration, and buy-in of the participants.
Questions to consider when organizing an informational meeting:
- Who will provide the information and when? Be sure to send out all the information in advance. Do not use the meeting as a place to force everyone to read a report together.
- Who will provide alternative perspectives?
- Who needs to hear the content?
Objective: generating the best and greatest number of original ideas
Research has shown that group brainstorming is not the most effective means for generating the greatest number of original ideas. Not everyone can think well on the spot or think well collectively. The first or more powerful voices can propel the group in a singular direction, and critical voices can restrict the input of others. Creative meetings work best after individuals have been given time to brainstorm on their own. They tend to generate more ideas this way, and they’re better prepared to defend their ideas.
Questions to consider when organizing a creative meeting:
- Who will be involved in implementing the solution?
- What expertise would provide insight?
- What are the different types of cognitive diversity that would elevate the solution set?
- Who are potential resisters and why?
Objective: gaining commitment around a change effort
Motivational meetings are designed to gain commitment from a team or group around a change effort. If you want to elevate the energy and will of the team to meet a particular action, you must appeal to them not just logically, but also emotionally. The leader and facilitator must learn where the emotional resistance is located and why, and affirm these emotions while offering up equally compelling (if not superior) emotional support and logic for the change effort. Dialogue is critical. People must feel like they’ve been heard (emotionally and logically) before they’re willing to accept and implement change.
Questions to consider when organizing a motivational meeting:
- Who is capable of providing a motivational message?
- Who needs to be engaged or involved in the change effort?
- Who will be affected?
- Who will be required to implement the change?
If you want to hold effective meetings, be clear about your objective. Let the objective dictate the participants, their roles, and the information you seek and share in advance. Don’t just hold “a meeting.”