BY MAMIE KANFER STEWART
You may have seen a popular comic strip about the massive discrepancy in understanding that can occur in project work among project leads, engineers, clients and other stakeholders. This misalignment struck a chord with a lot of folks, including us at Meeteor. Why is it so hard for different groups of people to get on the same page? More importantly, how can we prevent it from happening again?
We were inspired to think about how the same disconnect happens with another common workplace activity: meetings. Here we bring our expertise in meetings to the comic strip.
Do any parts of this comic resonate with you? If so, there’s work to do toward improving meeting management. Let’s take a closer look at how the meeting cycle can break down before, during and after the meeting.
Before the meeting
You, the meeting leader, have likely thought about the purpose of the meeting. How you’ll spend the time is fairly clear in your mind. You send out a meeting invite with the logistical info and what you think is a pretty descriptive meeting title. Maybe you even added a few words of explanation about why you called the meeting or attached a document for people to read in advance.
So you’ve done the work, right?
Yet somehow the meeting invite doesn’t translate all of your thinking. It does not detail desired outcomes or list clear agenda items. While there is pre-work, there are no instructions of what to do with it. The context is not clear enough for the meeting participants to be fully prepared for the conversation.
When pre-meeting communication is insufficient, meeting participants may all have different expectations of the meeting. They may interpret the meeting name and limited information differently. Some might even accept the invitation without any idea of what the meeting is about, which reflects larger challenges in the company meeting culture.
During the meeting
When everyone comes in thinking something different, you may have to spend the beginning of the meeting getting everyone up to speed, wasting precious time. But even then, without a clear meeting objective and agenda as a roadmap, the conversation is more likely to travel in unplanned directions. Is that a bad thing? Not always, but it’s likely that you will not have made progress toward accomplishing the meeting’s goals.
Even when the meeting conversation accomplishes the goal, too often there is little or no record of the meeting outcomes — decisions, next steps and key takeaways. Individuals might jot down some notes, but a collective recap of the meeting outcomes may not exist. Even if one does, it may not be easily accessible to all participants for future reference.
After the meeting
Without shared documentation that captures the highlights of the meeting, people need to rely on their own memories. As we all know, human memory can be quite faulty! As time goes by, each person might recall a different version of the conversation, and teams can end up wasting time and energy rehashing old conversations. If people in the meeting are not clear about the results, it’s almost impossible for other stakeholders who did not attend the meeting to stay informed and aligned.
The result is that meeting outcomes get lost in the ether. The actions people take (if any) can be totally different from the original conversation and may or may not move the overall work forward.
How do you bridge the gap?
Like any kind of change in life, the first step is awareness. Only when you acknowledge that problems exist can you do something about it. If you’re ready to improve your meeting cycle, start with this checklist.
Before you call the meeting:
–Are you clear why you want to hold this meeting? Jot down what success looks like for this meeting.
–Who should be involved in the conversation? Who can be informed, but does not need to attend?
Before you send a meeting invitation:
–Beside logistical information, did you include the desired outcomes and agenda for the conversation? If you haven’t, when will you communicate that to the meeting participants?
–What preparation do you want the meeting participants to do? Share any pre-work and instructions in the meeting invitation.
When you receive a meeting invitation:
–Are you clear what this meeting is about? If not, reach out to the meeting leader and ask what you can do to prepare and what you are expected to contribute to the conversation.
–Set a reminder for yourself to prepare for the meeting. If there is pre-work, block some time on your calendar the day before the meeting to do it.
When the meeting starts:
–Review the desired outcomes and agenda for the meeting.
–Assign a note-taker to capture key decisions, tasks and learnings for the meeting.
–When the conversation wanders off the agenda, table the off-topic discussion and refocus.
When the meeting ends:
–Recap the decisions and next steps with the team and get commitments for each action.
–Share meeting outcomes with whoever needs to stay informed, including those who did not attend the meeting.
–Store the meeting notes in a centralized place for everyone to access as needed.