Whether we're coming together at work or at home, or on behalf of boards, non-profits or clubs, we can all relate to the drudgery of meeting overload. Oftentimes it's less the meeting that's the problem than the sheer number of times we find ourselves in a rambling, inefficient assembly of individuals whose intentions all seem to be at cross-purposes.
Though we've all been guilty of the following transgressions, great meetings require a few commonsensical ground rules: All phones down. Curb the multi-tasking. Begin and end on time. When everyone in the room is listening, and truly present, the likelihood of a successful meeting rises exponentially. With this threshold of meeting decorum in mind, here are three simple rules to create shorter, better, higher-impact meetings:
1. Clarify the Meeting Category
Before establishing the agenda for or the premise of a meeting, it's useful to understand its category type and/or agenda points. It's hard to believe, but there are really only three reasons to call for a meeting: to inform, to input or to approve. We've all been in meetings when one participant seeks to inform, and another wants to give input or offer approval - or the other way around. To avoid inefficiency (and awkwardness), first clarify - at the highest level- what type of meeting this is about.
2. Use the JOT Principle
All meetings need to begin with the basics of an agenda. From a content standpoint, what exactly is under discussion? People and the organization? A proposed budget? A specific investment project? Often a disconnect exists between the meeting holder and the participants when the real agenda is either buried or so hopelessly delayed that the meeting ends without satisfactory resolution. JOT stands for Just One Thing, e.g. "Just One Thing: - if this meeting were about one singular overarching item, what is that one thing?' A meeting may cover multiple items, but the JOT principle helps people focus on the most important agenda item in the room.
3. Always have DRIs and Follow Ups
Among other things, Steve Jobs was known to discourage agenda items that did not have what he called a DRI, or "Directly Responsible Individual." I love the concept of a DRI, as it creates accountability. Even when different people are responsible for agenda items, if there's not a DRI who has ownership of the overall agenda and can see the task or project through to its end, it's far less likely to get done. One of my partners used to joke that his recipe for sleeping through the night was to surround himself with really good people who were so reliable and accountable they'd be willing to lose sleep on his behalf. In successful meetings, and especially for follow-ups, the identity of the DRI will always be very clear.
Applying the Principles for Effective Meetings
Here's a simple illustration integrating the three rules and principles of better meetings. Imagine you're the company CEO. You're trying to work on a budget for a next round of fundraising, and as you've just come off a positive meeting with a venture firm, you call a meeting with your co-founders and management members. How will you apply the principles above? If you're emailing your colleagues, consider the following:
I had a good meeting this morning with our prospective VC funding partner and would like to meet at 5pm in the main conference room. If we are focused (so please no multi-tasking and phones down for this meeting), we can do this in 60 minutes or less:
- This meeting is to inform (share why I liked the VC firm) and to get input (on budget and growth plan).
- JOT - if there were just one thing I'd like to accomplish in this meeting it is to lock down how we are going to get a revised budget and 3-year growth plan completed in the next 10 days. Let's map out the game-plan and dependencies required to make it happen.
- DRI's and To Do's -- let's confirm before the end of the meeting and as follow-ups become clear, but my inclination is to have Jane be the DRI on the budget and growth plan and I'll be the DRI on continuing on the relationship with the VC.
Thanks, and I look forward to seeing you later.
This upfront architecting helps ensure an optimal use of meeting time. These three principles of meeting type (inform, input, approve), JOT, and DRIs that are the three-legs of great meeting design. If you don't have time to draft an email such as the above, send a meeting invite, and explain the three principles in real time at the very start of the meeting. Which brings me to the second point: before any meeting, craft your thoughts as clearly as they're spelled out in the above email, and again, if possible, send it out in advance. The next time you lead a meeting or participate in one, walk through the framework in your head first. If the narrative of the meeting isn't clear, clarify it in your head first - or put off the meeting until you're absolutely sure of what you really want out of the meeting and who you want to help carry that out.