4 characteristics of a great meeting – and a bad one that drives me crazy

By Scot Herrick | Job Skills

Aug 16

Meetings can take up a good part of a Cubicle Warrior’s day. When you have or participate in a great meeting, you feel great. But most of the time, we don’t feel that great about the meeting. There are some good reasons why — and how to fix it.

Understand the purpose of the meeting

Meetings come in many different flavors. There is the “workshop” type of meeting where participants are expected to contribute what needs to be done on various topics. For example, in my Project Manager role, when a project kicks off, a workshop meeting is often held and the participants are expected to contribute both what they will bring to the project and what they need from others so they can complete their work.

On the other hand, a status meeting is where you give your updates on the work you have done since the last status and what is next for you. Short, to the point.

Is this a meeting where you come to a decision to implement? A brainstorming session to solve a problem? A review meeting to ensure a process is correct?

Hopefully, the meeting manager has provided the purpose of the meeting in the invitation. If not, ask. The answer changes what you need to bring to the meeting to make it successful.

Review your calendar for the next day so you can prepare for meetings

Preparation for meetings is becoming a lost art. Oftentimes we have back-to-back meetings all day with no time to prepare. Not only does it not feel right to not be prepared, the lack of preparation — even five to ten minutes — for the meeting often results with you not engaging with the meeting subject.

With enough people in that situation, it makes the meeting objective difficult to meet. Decisions don’t get made, ideas don’t get generated, and tasks don’t become known and assigned.

Without the participation, a meeting will waste your time and not make the meeting the best it can be.

Show up for the meeting — or let the meeting organizer know why you won’t be there

In a fast-moving environment, stuff happens. The inevitable emergency, the crisis that needs solving now, the request from an executive that magically produces all sorts of time to solve the executive’s problem but not the problems of mere cubicle dwellers.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t let the organizer know you won’t be there. If you accepted the meeting and aren’t there at the start, the organizer will often wait for you to show up…while everyone else twiddles their virtual thumbs. Or some other finger.

It’s one thing to be a little bit late; an entirely different thing to not show at all.

Immediately during the meeting or right after, capture — in detail — your tasks from the meeting

I am most guilty in this one. During the meeting — especially if I am running the meeting — there are tasks to be done and captured so that after the meeting you can do the work.

Here’s what I do — I hear the task, agree to the task, and then write down a couple of words to remind me about the task that I look at later. I’m sure I’ll remember what it was we were talking about. I’m sure I’ll review it after the back-to-back…to-back meetings. And I do. What stares me in the face is the equivalent of writing down “Mom.”

I’m sure there is something there that I will need to do…and I have no idea what that to-do is that I must complete.

What you and I really need to do is write down the complete to-do. What’s the verb, the subject, and the outcome when the task is done so that when you go back to your cubicle two-hours later, you can do the task that needs doing.

It’s hard. I fail all the time.

Bonus points: you, as the meeting organizer, have someone capture all of the task assignments so they can be sent out in email so everyone will remember what needs to get done.

If you need to cancel a meeting, do it a business day before the meeting happens (this drives me crazy)

Most people, if we’re being honest, don’t mind if a meeting is cancelled a minute before it happens. “A free hour!,” they say.

And it’s true. The problem is that they presumably prepped for the meeting, brought their A-game to the meeting, and then find out the meeting was cancelled. And what do most people replace that hour with? Nothing. Or very little. It is now a “free” hour.

Even if you’re very good and have a good task list to go back to for work, the meeting broke the flow of what you were working on to go to it, and then breaks the flow again when it is cancelled.

If you work in a global environment, it’s especially poor management because global meetings often involve getting up early, staying late or going to bed late in order to make the meeting. Arrangements are made, alarms are set, sleep is planned to be lost, morning routines are changed and then the meeting gets cancelled. If you make me get up two hours early to attend a meeting you cancel ten minutes (or less) before the meeting starts, trust me, I’ll be pissed. And I won’t be the only one.

Meetings are about respecting people’s time

You show up. Prepared. Make sure you get your tasks. And have the meeting when you say you will have the meeting or cancel it with enough time so that you don’t change the dynamic of a person’s day.

It’s not always going to work out. That’s a given. But all of that should be an exception, not the rule. If people aren’t prepared for the meeting, don’t show for meetings, don’t do the work from the meetings and organizers consistently cancel and move meetings without a lot of notice, that’s not good management. It’s crazy-time.