Making Meetings Matter

According to Dr. James Ware, author of the recently released book “Making Meetings Matter, How Smart Leaders Orchestrate Powerful Conversations in the Digital Age” notes that the 21st Century is the age of networked knowledge. And for me, that means connecting in a meaningful way with others, whether you do it via email, Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social media, or by using plain, old-fashioned face-to-face conversations.” He believes that there has been so much change in the workplace over the last decade, that to be a successful leader you too need to change.

Dr. Ware believes there is a fundamental misalignment between Work and Leadership. Much of this stems from the command-and-control leadership so popular in the industrial revolution, which does not work well in the digital age. The nature of work itself has changed, along with where we work, and how we work. It is this change of work paradigm and a new generation (digital native) workforce (Millenials are 50% of the current U.S. workforce today) that is driving the changes in leadership.

Dr. Ware also proposes that there are 10 different types of meetings, each with a specific purpose:images10

  1. Informing – most common meeting type
  2. Sharing – exchange of ideas
  3. Exploring (brainstorming) – new ideas
  4. Planning- future opportunities and challenges
  5. Problem-solving –A current challenge, root cause analysis, solution testing
  6. Designing –  developing new product specifications
  7. Producing – Actual work is done in the meeting
  8. Decision-making – group consensus about future actions
  9. Persuading –Compelling reasons for change
  10. Inspiring – Motivations for a specific goal

*Note: most meetings combine 2 or more of these meeting types

Here are some nuggets from Dr. Ware on getting the right mindset to run a meeting:

  • The group is smarter than any single individual;
  • Meeting participants can learn and grow (including the leader);
  • Focus on broad goals that everyone agrees with;
  • Respect individual differences, and understand that everyone has their own individual circumstances (this means trying not to put meeting members in difficult circumstances);
  • It is also important to suspend your judgment, and listen and understand what they are saying;
  • Try to “have the mind of a beginner” be open and curious, you never know who will have a great idea;
  • Build on agreement and commonality, it is a lot easier to deal with disagreements from a common ground;
  • Leaders are not expected to have all the answers, admit it when you don’t know;
  • As the meeting leader keeps things on track, be firm but flexible;
  • “Small talk” is a quick way of meeting members to establish trust, and understand each other’s circumstances, and to get everyone present and into the moment; this is even more true for distance or distributed meetings;
  • A more formalized way to deal with small talk is to give time for people to “check in.” The check-in should be short and should describe the individual’s state, and expectations from the meeting;
  • It is better to tell stories than overwhelm the meeting with data (a particular fault of my own);
  • Since people don’t often read the pre-meeting documents, it is often important to give them time to read a summary document, so everyone can be on the same page (literally) and share a common context when the meeting starts; and
  • Groupthink – most people don’t deal well with ambiguity, and will often grasp (too early) at an idea or solution, without enough exploration of the solution space. It is up to you as the leader to prevent this, and keep the group flexible and open to new ideas.

We hope that understanding the type of meeting you are running, and some of these tips on being a good meeting leader will help your next meeting be a great one!