Successful Meetings: What Kind of Meeting is it?

One of the keys to hosting a successful meeting is knowing, upfront, what kind of meeting it is.  Without the proper direction - and, thus, goals - a meeting can flounder and get nothing accomplished.  Meetings can be very expensive for a company.  It's always a motivator to look around a room and guesstimate how much an particular meeting is costing a company.  If you are pulling coworkers away from their desk, be sure you at least know what you're pulling them away for.

Here are just a few of the types of meetings I've been a part of:

(1) The Discovery Meeting.  This meeting has the most potential; the most potential for something to go wrong and the most potential for something great to happen.  A discovery meeting is needed when a project is first getting off the ground.  The goal of a discovery meeting is to find out who are the experts in the project, what the true scope of the project should be, and who is going to do what.

Leading a discovery meeting is a bit like being a coach.  You know (hope) that you have all the right players on the team.  In the few short minutes of the meeting you need to figure out where the players go on the field, and whether or not they are going to cooperate.  Discovery meetings will often set the tone for the project going forward; if the meeting comes off as a mess, that impression will last with all the participants.  If everyone can walk away feeling their time was well used, you'll be able to leverage their skills and abilities in the coming tasks for the meeting.

(2) The Informational Meeting.  This meeting is usually chaired by the manager of a team or director of a division.  The key is not for interaction, but instead for information assimilation.  These meetings are often very costly due to the number of people in the audience, and the managers know that.  In other words, you as a participant had better listen.

If a topic is covered at an informational meeting, be sure to remember it.  Anything covered at an informational meeting is assumed to now be in your knowledge.  If it's a divisional meeting and you didn't get to go (out sick?), be sure to get the notes - seriously!  Being the only person on a floor not to know about a new project or time tracking rule can not only be embarassing, but seen as totally unprofessional.  Careers are not high school where you can feign ignorance; it's your ownresponsibility to have the up-to-date information.

If you are in the position to be leading an informational meeting, remember that your participants (even though they should be listening) might not (probably aren't) listening.  They are still processing through whatever work they left in their inbox.  If you aren't asking for participation, they are going to disengage.

One final not to participants of informational meetings: if you have a genuine question about a topic covered at a meeting, you should follow up and ask it.  It will show that you have an interest in the project and that you were one of the few people listening.  If it's not a genuine question, don't; no need to be a suck up.

(3) The Working Meeting.  This is the hard one.  I've found that these actually come few and far at levels below management.  If you're a working professional, you typically have a normal ebb and flow of work to do, whether alone or in a team.  So when a working professional gets pulled into a working meeting, it's usually a bit of adjustment and we often come unprepared.

A working meeting is just that: thirty minutes to an hour to solve a problem.  If the wrong people are in the room, oh well - there's no time to stop.  Whoever is in the room will get the outgoing assignments.  Whoever is in the room are the experts for the organization at that moment.  Whoever is in the room will solve the problem.  If you're in that room, enjoy the challenge and put a smile on your face.

A working meeting can be anything from hashing out taxonomy to deciding what a marketing message will be.  The intent isn't simply to discover possibilities and then reconnect later, but it's to walk away with an answer to a problem.  It's ok to walk away with new questions, but the initial problem must be solved, or at least have a tentative solution.  Otherwise, the company just spent a lot of money on a conversation that should have just been had over email.

The problem, of course, is that working professionals usually get pulled into a working meeting and aren't prepared for it.  This is where listening back in those informational meetings comes in handy.  Keeping a finger on the pulse of the projects going on around you and their status will lend favor to you knowing when your expertise might be called upon.

These are just some of the general meeting types I've come across, but I wanted to go ahead and introduce the language that I'll be using in future posts.  The key here is being able to sense what kind of meeting you're attending, or letting participants know what kind of meeting you're hosting.  When people know what's expected, they will come to the table with the right mindset and, hopefully, the right goals in mind.