It’s been such a delight these last four years since I focused on blogging and escaped from most of the business meetings. I openly confess. I don’t like meetings. Sure, there’s the rare exception, when a group of like-minded people discuss interesting ideas. I’ve been in meetings where people are excited, ideas bouncing about, lively discussions, brainstorming, and that’s great.
But it’s so damn rare.
One of my dear mother’s favorite expressions was “if the shoe fits, put it on.” Just writing that makes me miss her. See if you fit either of these descriptions.
The runaway train
You don’t see it as easily when it’s you, but if you watch for it, you’ll see it all the time. One person is introducing a thought, gets a few words or a sentence into it, and pauses. Then another person — the runaway train person — seizes the pause and starts talking.
Lots of people pause when they talk. There are good reasons to pause. But when the runaway train comes roaring in and takes the conversation over, the group never gets the wisdom of the person who talks slowly.
It’s worse when you’re the boss. People don’t complain about the boss interrupting. Right. And, gulp, I was the boss for a lot of years. Oh-oh.
Then there is the person who goes on and on and on and on and on and … you get the idea. Interrupting is rude, so you sit there, and when at last, after what seems like forever, the whole monologue seems to be winding down, then you hear, to your horror and the horror of everyone else in the meeting:
In other words…
Which means the whole thing is going to start up again.
It’s worse when you’re the boss. People don’t complain about the boss going on and on, right? And, gulp, I was the boss for a lot of years. Oh-oh.
Conclusion: pots and kettles
I know, it’s pots and kettles. I’ve done both of them, and I hate both of them. Don’t think for a minute, because I’m writing about this, that I think I don’t. At best, I try not to. When I think about it.
But I do hope this reminder will help you do better at your meetings. Do you have some suggestions? The talking stick, something like that? Something you’ve done to make meetings better, to avoid these two problems? I’d love some suggestions. And, if it helps, print this out and post it on a bulletin board, or in the conference room. Make it a gentle reminder to all.
Years ago I brought in an empty laundry detergent box to all of my meetings and it became a very effective tool for the runaway train scenarios. The rules… if you are passionate about a subject or topic and need to “get on your soap box,” you have two minutes to make your points. And then, we move forward. Sometimes people didn’t even realize they were heading in that direction until a member of the group slid the box into the center of the table. The Gate Keeper (for time) would let the person on the soap box know that they had two minutes and when the two minutes were up, we moved on. A simple technique, but an effective one.
Thanks Diana, that’s a great story. Great addition to this post. Tim
Excellent post Tim! I took a business meetings class, and it was worth every penny. People have to understand their roles, and it’s essential to keep people on task with a good facilitator.
Facilitation instruction was the best class I had ever taken to combat this problem (and I only was able to stay for one of the two days planned!). I finally learned how to plan and orchestrate a meeting and the huge importance of doing so. Every meeting must have a facilitator. I would love to believe there was the ability to have someone independent to the meeting in this role (as is suggested for best affect), but, probably not. So, the person facilitating must take the role seriously and wear the two hats. They must clarify the expectations and rules for the group, including time frames. They must work with the key meeting owner/stakeholder to insure there are measurable results for the meeting in advance. The facilitator will reframe questions/answers for clarity when needed. While all of this sounds laborious, it was brilliant in execution. It was a lifesaver to me, as many meetings had between 20 and 150 people in them. After learning facilitation, efficiency kicked in and meetings were no longer dreaded. It can be done!
CWebb: thanks, interesting addition. I’ve seen some meetings done well by facilitators, but it’s not something we always think about. You’re right, I think, maybe it should be.