When you were in high school, if you took any sort of advanced biology courses, one of the projects you had was to dissect a frog.
I’m sure you remember it well… Your teacher gave you a live frog, you had to kill it by sticking a needle in the base of its neck. Then there was a set of instructions you had to follow to cut open the frog and find its various skeletal structures and internal organs.
If you were like me, the process was not pleasant (I had gutted enough fish to think of cutting animals as a chore). If you were like my lab partner, you were totally into it… he is also a doctor now.
Looking back, one of the things I regret that never did in that class was to ask Why?
Why are we cutting this animal apart?
Why do we need to do this when we have videos and text books?
Why should I have to do this, If I don’t want to be a doctor when I grow up?
At a lot of companies, meetings are like dissecting that frog…
No one around you ever stops to understand Why Are We Meeting?
To get better at Dissecting the Meeting Frog you should think about the reasons why you are meeting.
The BAD Reasons Why:
1. Social Reasons (aka: Meet and Greet, Getting to Know the Team, Catching Up)
Humans are social creatures who in general like to congregate in groups of common interests. Thousands of years of instincts tells us that we are safer in a groups. It feels good to be in a group that accepts you and understands you.
Have you ever gotten a sense of validation by being in a group of your peers and people you respect?
2. Formality (We are meeting because we always have this meeting)
There are a lot of meetings that are based on some formality or rule that says we have to meet.
Board meetings and safety regulation of are a good example of meeting for formality reasons.
Status meetings are typically the most abused sort of “Formality” meeting… Have you ever attended a status meeting that should have been cancelled, but you had it because “we always have this meeting”.
The GOOD Reasons Why (mostly):
3. Certain Types of Communication is Easier in Groups.
Imagine if you were a School Principal and you wanted to give parents updates on the school renovation and address their concerns. You could:
A. meet with parents individually
B. Send a group email, answer questions as they came up.
C. Discuss the changes at the PTA Meeting and have a 15 minutes question session.
The problem with A and B is that they don’t scale well. Single parent meetings could take hundreds of your hours. And I am sure you have seen large group emails get out of hand with “respond all” firestorm replies.
Meetings are a good venue when you need to work with a larger group to: Spread Information, Obtain Information, and Answer Common Questions
4. Meeting to Learn / Give Help / Solve problems:
Small meeting groups (3-8 people) are great for Learning, Teaching, and Problem Solving. The key for these types of meetings is to have a clear goal and approach for structuring the meetings, otherwise they can turn into a social gathering.
5. Accountability Is Easier In Groups
If you have ever joined a group exercise class with your friends, you may have discovered that you were less likely to give up in the middle of the class, and you were less likely to skip a class because you wanted to sleep in that morning. Meetings can be like that…
Sometimes we meet because we know that it is easier to hold people accountable in a group. Most people don’t want to let their peers down in front of them… so they are more likely to get action items knocked out before the meeting.
In a workplace environment, reasons #1 and #2 from above are typically not ideal reasons to hold a business meeting. For reasons #3, #4 and #5, be sure that you differentiate the purpose of the meeting to help you best structure your meeting objectives.
YOUR HOMEWORK: As you look at you meeting invites this week, ask the question “Why are we having this meeting” to determine if the meeting is really necessary.
*Please Note (for Reason #1): I am not against having social meetings where you get together with someone and shoot the shift about random topics… But I don’t think anyone who is a productive person should be scheduling these meetings in the middle of a workday. Please schedule these events at 5:30, and be sure that you bring beer.