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brett, Author at Less Meeting

The Importance of Starting and Stopping Meetings on Time

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The Executive Decree – “We will start meetings on time, and we will end meetings on time.”

At the beginning of my first meeting at a new client, I arrived early and picked my spot near the far corner of the conference room table (I prefer to sit near the corner of the table closest to the screen). The Executive Sponsor came in early and chatted with me for3-4minutes. I glanced at my watch a few times as various members of the client team tricked in a few minutes after the planned start time.Meeting Room

Once we had the team present, I started my introduction, but the VP stood up as I was about to begin and interrupted me. “Excuse me for one moment Brett … < dramatic pause >… I want to make one thing clear to everyone on this project: We will start meetings on time, and we will end meetings on time. We are all busy, and we need to respect one another’s time”.  He sat back down, and after about 10 seconds of awkward silence (which felt like an hour), I started up again “Thank you all for coming today. The objective of this meeting is…

To this day, the Executive Sponsor’s assertion on the importance of timely meetings sticks with me. He wasn’t mean, and he wasn’t trying to assert his authority, he was trying to make us better at an essential part of our jobs.

Why Is It So Important to Be on Time?

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5 Email Templates For Following Up On Action Items

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action itemsHave you ever walked away from a meeting with a sneaking suspicion that nothing discussed in the meeting will get accomplished? Were you right?

Early on in my career, I had too many meetings where followup items just didn’t get done.  It wasn’t because the people were incompetent or didn’t care… normally, it was because they were swamped with stuff and the action item fell off their radar.

Being attuned to and empathizing with people’s busy schedule is one of the easiest ways to disarm a potentially awkward conversation (nobody likes feeling like they have done a bad job). Whenever I talk with someone about missing an action item, one of the key things I try to keep in mind is, “The person has not done anything wrong, the action item has just not been accomplished yet.”

Here are five email templates that you can use to follow up on action items (hopefully, without seeming like a jerk):

 

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How to Schedule a Meeting With Someone You Don’t Know

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So you are looking to schedule a meeting with someone you don’t know very well…

NRF

  1. What is the correct protocol to ask for a meeting?
  2. How do you get the meeting without seeming like a jerk?
  3. What if they turn you down?

These questions can cause you anxiety, especially if you’re an introvert who is not good at talking to new people (like me).

Below are my tips for how I approach getting a meeting with someone new:

How To Get A Meeting

1. Have Context

I generally avoid asking someone for a meeting that I don’t have context for. I define “context” as a point of reference… either you met them at an event, or you know someone who knows them, or you’re a big fan. Context is anything reason valuable enough for you to reach out to them.

Request a follow-up meeting on the spot

If I talk to someone at an event, I try to get a follow up while the conversation is still fresh.

Example: “I would love to chat more about ABC, would you be interested in grabbing coffee or lunch sometime this week?” If possible pull your phone out and send a meeting invite right away.

Write a note their business card

Make sure you write some information about the discussion on the back of the card to refresh your memory if you send out an invite later on. When you send out an email after an event, be sure to mention where you met them and what you discussed, e.g. “It was great meeting you at the fundraiser on Friday. I enjoyed chatting with you about ABC. Per our discussion, I would love to grab a meeting this week to chat more about ABC.” Read More

Meeting Villains: The Meeting Parrot

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Continuing our series on Meeting villains,  today we are talking about The Meeting Parrot
Boat-drinks on the Beach:
You are sitting there in the cabana of the beach bar… you look out onto the white sand beach and see all of the shirtless tanned guys and women in their new designer bikinis enjoying the beautiful aquamarine sea.   You lounge back into your comfortable chair and feel the breeze gently blow through your hair.  You slowly sip your coconut rum beverage while your friend Patrick tells you a story.

You are suddenly annoyed. You realize that parrot in the cage above the bar keeps repeating everything you and Patrick are talking about.  They should really do something about that bird…
Then it happens… you snap out of your Day-Dream and realize that you are still stuck in your 3:30 Accounting Staff Meeting.  Patrick is talking about the status of the Q2 Marketing Budget Planning.Unfortunately the Parrot is still in the room:  Adam (from the Strategic Planning Team) is repeating everything that Patrick says.You think to yourself:   I don’t know what the Strategic Planning Team does, but Adam seems to attend a lot of meetings where he says a lot, and contributes exactly nothing.

Origin of the Meeting Parrot:
The quote from Saskya Pandita says “Much talking is the cause of danger. Silence is the means of avoiding misfortune. The talkative parrot is shut up in a cage. Other birds, without speech, fly freely about.

Unfortunately for you, no one has put your Meeting Parrot in a cage yet.   I am not advocating putting your Adam in a literal cage (although your meeting would flow a lot smoother).  We are advocating you learn how to identify a Meeting Parrot, and how to deal with their behavior in a constructive way.

The origin of the Meeting Parrot behavior can be attributed to many things, a few of the potential sources may be:

  • Your company has a culture where the Squeaky Wheel Gets the Attention  What can I say…  some people love attention and sometimes they are able to get attention by talking excessively in meetings.
  • The meeting parrot was formerly judged based on the amount of airtime they took up.  Maybe their boss told them during a previous performance review that “they need to speak up more“, and they interpreted this as needing to talk more (even if they have nothing original to say).
  • The Parrot is scared that people will think their job is useless, so they trying to sound important.  No one wants to feel that their participation in a meeting is useless, so they may try to gain validation by repeating what sounds like good points.

Putting a Muzzle on that Bird:

Here are a few tips for getting your Meeting Parrot to contribute more meaningful discussion to your meeting:

  1. Take good notes. Taking good notes makes it easy to call out someone who is repeating what has already been stated.  For example “Adam: per the notes, Jessica already said that and we all agreed on the next steps.  Is what you are saying different than what she already said?”  If you do this a few times, they will get the message that their repeated comments are not valued.
  2. Make the meeting parrot take good notes.  When someone takes notes, they are less likely repeat something that they have already written down.  In addition, if they need to validate their usefulness (see the third bullet point from above), taking quality notes is a good way to add value to a meeting.
  3. Don’t invite people who are not critical to the success of the meeting.   If the meeting parrot just detracts from your meeting without adding value don’t invite them.  For recommendations on controlling your invitee list re-read this post.

Sometimes you get stuck in a situation where the Meeting Parrot is one of your bosses.   Fed-Ex did a pretty good parody of this situation (see video below).  

If this happens to you, you are out of luck, you might want to read “What Color is your Parachute

Parrot Image from DeusXFlorida via Flickr

Meeting Villains: Meet-Head

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Continuing our series on Meeting villains,  today we are talking about The Meet-Head.

The Dreaded Invite:
You dread when you see the meeting invite from him.  He has scheduled 4 meetings with you already this week, and those meetings digressed into him updating a spreadsheet on the projector while everyone sat and watched.

Does he understand how unproductive it is when he calls a meeting for every single thing he is working on?

You contemplate declining the meeting, but you are concerned that an important decision will be made and you will not be kept in the loop (He never sends out meeting notes).

You have a twinge of sickness in the bottom of your stomach as you hit Accept on the meeting invite.

The Prognosis:

If the story above sounds familiar,  you may be dealing with a “Meet-Head“. Meet-Heads come in all sizes, shapes, and forms… so they can sometime be mistaken for important decision makers (Many times, they will even try to masquerade as decision makers).


The following are some tips that can help you spot a Meet-Head:
#1 They are never at their desk.   If you actually do catch them at their desk and you have a simple 10 second question for them… they will typically say: “I don’t have time to discuess that right now.  Can you schedule a meeting on my calendar to talk about it?

#2 Inability to make a decision or get anything done on their own.  They will never make a decision or  take responsibility for something.  They will always call a meeting to get people’s input or to get help doing their work.

#3 Always calls a meeting for any issue.  No matter how small the issue is, they will call a meeting for it.  They feel that everyone must be included in every issue.

#4 Have conference rooms blocked for no reason.  If you have a conference room scheduling app, they will have confernece rooms blocked even without having a meeting planned.  When you ask them about it, the response goes something like this: “Well, we may need to talk about some of the issues that might come up with the project xyz deployment this week, so I blocked off the room just in case.”
Decide to Act:

If you don’t do something about the Meet-Head, you may run the risk of an even more serious problem: Meeting Zombie Culture.  It is true… the Meet-Head can infect others with his infectious behavior.   Next thing you know, everyone in your company is slowly walking from conference room to conference room… moaning about how they can’t get anything done.

What to Do:

Get the facts: 

Metrics – Track the number of meetings that they organize.  If they are calling more than 2-3 meetings a day, they may have a problem.

Understand –  Figure out why are they calling so many meetings.   Do you have a larger issue of people in your company not being accountable… could this be why they are calling meetings?
Feedback:
Give constructive feedback – “Tom, I know everyone on this meeting invite is really busy,  can you cancel this meeting and just have everyone send you status?”

Acceptance or Denial – Figure out if they understand that the number of meetings they call is a problem.  If they don’t understand they have a problem, they will not know that they need to improve.

Support Group Other people need to understand the problem as well, you can’t take on a Meet-Head alone.  Send an email to the group reminding everyone that unnecessary or ineffective meetings can be costly and slow down everyone’s success.

Improve:

Focus on improving the meetings they organize.  Based on feedback from our users, having more effective meetings will typically reduce the amount of meetings that they need to hold.

Help guide the Meet-Head to make sure that his meetings have:

  • Well Planned Agendas
  • Meeting Minutes Sent Out Immediately
  • Action Items with Clear Next Steps (that don’t include: “Hold another meeting”)

If you can’t help the Meet-Head improve,  you may have an HR problem to deal with (or potentially you should start looking for a new company to work with).   

If you have other suggestions on how to deal with Meet-Heads,  I would love to hear them in the comments below or email me at Brett@LessMeeting.com

Meeting Villains: How to Tell if Someone is a Hijacker.

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Previously we introduced you to the Meeting Villains, this is the first installment in that series: The Meeting Hijacker.

The Hijacking

You didn’t suspect that he would turn out to be a Hijacker.

It was your first meeting with him.  He looked pretty clean cut… dressed like any other businessman… with his Brooks Brother shirt, cornflower blue tie, snazzy cufflinks… nothing to make you suspicious.
But then all of the sudden… BAAM!!  Your Meeting has been HIJACKED.

You are stunned for the first few minutes, your head is reeling and you can’t figure out how he did it.  The other attendees in the room scornfully look at you for inviting the one person who could derail one of the most important meetings of the month.

The Culprit

You are not totally to blame…  A meeting hijacker can easily blend in as anyone in your organization (not just a Gordon Gecko type with a hidden agenda the size of Santa Claus’ naughty list).

To help you quickly identify a hijacker, look for these attributes: 

  • Shows up late to a meeting without knowing what the meeting is about… after you included the agenda in the invite and your follow-up email. 
  • Brings up side topics that are unrelated to the goals of the meeting. 
  • Says things such as:  “We need to discuss __XYZ__ which is really more important than everything you have on the agenda”
  • Interjects the discussion with urgent hot-button low priority issues by saying “we need to talk about this eventually”…  and then will continue to talk about those issues. 

How to Protect Yourself.

Keep an eye out for the behaviors above.   If you see something, SAY SOMETHING.

The only way to halt a hijacking is to stop it as soon as it starts…  if you let it proceed, it will snowball into an avalanche of useless side discussion.

The following are the three tricks to stop a hijacking in progress:

#1 Have a Planned Agenda sent out prior to the meeting –  REMEMBER: It will be nearly impossible to prevent a hijacking if you don’t send out an agenda.   In your invite, be sure to include the text “Please review the agenda below and let me know if you have any updates or additions”


#2 Put Off-Topic Items Into a “Parking Lot” – If someone tries to hijack the meeting, point out that what they are bringing up “was not on the agenda you sent out last week” and ask if we can add it to the parking lot to address at the end of the meeting (time permitting) or a follow-up meeting.


#3 Keep Track of Time in the Meeting – If people in the meeting are aware that their precious 22 minutes of meeting time is quickly melting into oblivion, they are much less likely to protest adding an off-topic item to the parking lot.

You are now armed with the weapons to protect your meetings from Hijackers.    If you see something, SAY SOMETHING.  Remember: the safety of meetings is up to you.

 Photo from Flickr user istolethetv