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Meetings – It’s all about planning the Interruptions

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First thing you will notice while reading this post is the image above. Today at this very moment, when I searched it in google (noticed the new logo?), I could see the most searched phrases as above.. WOW !! It’s quite common to see someone saying “Meetings are such a waste of time” or “Meetings interrupt my work rather than solve the problem”. I bet you heard this before, at least once in your professional life or even felt like that.

 

Yes, I freaking hated meetings as well, as it never helped me (6 years ago). Sitting together with a bunch of hot shots who mostly try to put their opinions forward and try to route the decisions to their own liking. I used to like the fact that, if I get a call in between, I can finally say “Can I call you back? I am in a meeting right now !” Being a recent graduate these things were in my “Things To Do” list as a ‘Professional’ 😉

I was wrong as you might have already guessed, mostly because I never understood why I was in that meeting room. I only attended just because someone invited me. Realising that I loved the attention when I had something to contribute, whether it meant anything or not, I started regularly attending the meetings and my productivity started going out the window.

So, I did some basic self evaluation as this wasn’t the experience I wanted the achieve during my graduations. Anyway, 5 years ago when I was somewhat serious in my career, I read few blog posts and professional opinions about Meetings in general. Most mentioned that meetings are always a controversial topic for sometime and a successful meeting is widely dependent on the organisers ability to achieve something. Months later, co-incidentally I was introduced to Agile development which changed my views forever, for good.

This post about Meetings is not about Agile though but Meetings in general. In these 5 years, here is what I learned about it and ways to make use of some basic concepts.

 

Ask yourself: Do you have a ‘Goal’ to reach after this meeting?

That’s a simple question so just answer it to yourself first. If not satisfied with your own answer, ask the organiser. You may find them acting all rad about it and even a little annoyed. Your answer – “I am sure you have your reasons but does it have to involve me?” Let them think and answer to that question. It will simply rectify any confusion right away. You will get an answer on yes or no, simply explaining why. There won’t be a grey line if they are 100% sure.

Benefit – You know why are you attending the meeting and what will be your contributions to it.

 

Ask the members: Is this the Goal we are trying to discuss?

Yes it is, unless they wouldn’t be joining it. So where’s the ‘controversy’ coming from? Well, the moment we start discussing a topic which slowly takes another road, which seemed important at the time and ended up discussing nothing, especially the original topic. Who is responsible? – All of us involved in the meeting. It’s like watching a crime and not reporting it which is actually a crime too.

How do we cope with it? Be the hard nut and “Raise Hand” interrupt everyone discussing the topic which is diverted from the original. People may look at you like you are a maniac but you will save your valuable time as well as their’s. Politely say that you think this conversation is not in the scope of the current meeting and should be discussed separately; if really necessary to be kept short.

 

Meeting are interrupting if it is not planned

Sitting quietly in a corner, deep into your thoughts/work and listening to your favourite tune.. “Hey! Can we quickly have a meeting about the XXX with the team?” What the.. why? I was..? why now?

Bet you were in that situation at least once, may be even more times and may have also finished the sentence starting with “What The..”. I can completely understand and this is mostly the reason many people find meetings interrupting. A meeting has to be done immediately for an “urgent” reason and the organiser (it can be you) have to define “urgent”. Just because you have some free time and want to get a thing or two done is not the right  reason to arrange an urgent meeting, whoever you are.

Plan the meetings and never assume that the people your are asking to join are free. You will not get things done in the meeting as the attendees are not in their right mind to discuss it. They are there because they had no other choice. May be you are their Boss and they don’t want to annoy you.

 

If your business needs frequent unplanned meetings, create time boxed meeting placeholder and send invites even if you don’t use it

I found this extremely useful in businesses where unplanned meetings are regularly necessary. Create a 10-15 minutes slot in every 3 hours and let everyone know. Everyone can use that session for any urgent discussion and not just you. Everyone will know that in their calendar, today they have 2-3 placeholders and they have to be free for that. If no meeting necessary, they can just continue working, simple.

 

Never attend a meeting with a mindset which reflects the attitude ‘it is a waste of time’

If you join a meeting thinking it is a waste, it will be. You will definitely waste your time and regret the decision of joining it. Worse, you may end up making it a waste for everyone else.

 

Never attend a meeting to control it, attend to contribute

The most important aspect of any meeting is, you can see everyone else’s view on the topic. You have an idea or a topic to discuss, you are pretty confident about the goal and have ideas to achieve it. So you invite others to ‘share their opinion’ on it. Stick to the goal, discuss and forget you organised it. Advocate your opinion but always keep in mind that ‘you may be wrong’. Just because you think it is right, doesn’t mean it is right for others. Contribute to the discussion with what you know and listen more to understand rather than waiting for the other person to stop talking.

 

Bottom line – If you can’t make use of the meetings don’t blame someone else. Meetings are necessary, useful and in fact improves the communications among teams/members in every way possible. Just make sure it is done right and not just a date in your calendar.

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