The matter becomes problematic when meetings no longer consist of two or three people, but five, ten, or even more sitting around a table. As a safeguard, everyone is invited who might be involved, because you don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. And after the meeting, we need to know whether everyone is behind the decision. We’d rather send out too many invitations than too few. The meeting is a counterpart to the classic email cc, which is usually equally unnecessary.
Bosses receive so many invitations to meetings this way that they could fill every day with 2 days of meetings. People rush from one meeting to the next. And when the boss eventually arrives, the meeting has to start over again. And when they leave, the meeting is over even if it still continues. Meetings never ever seem to end early. They drag on and on. When in doubt, we digress from the subject and talk about related or current issues.
But the worst thing about these weighty debates involving far too many people is that we usually need them as much as we need a headache. Very rarely does a helpful exchange take place in them. At most, only a few people have an elevated energy level. No special talents come into their own here. The loud mouths always get the upper hand in such settings.
Does that sound a little exaggerated to you? My own experience and that of many of my colleagues tells me that this happens a lot more than companies would like to admit. The net productivity generated by meetings is likely to be negative in more than just a few organizations.
For most people, scenarios like this are simply annoying and frustrating. Managers and employees alike all hate meetings. I also include myself in this group. I’ve attended hundreds of these events during my work as a consultant and salesperson. Often enough, I leave these meetings with a headache and have a feeling of emptiness in my stomach. You forget to drink, you usually don’t eat anything, and the air is stale. In some sales meetings, I probably would have forgotten to breathe if it wasn’t automatic. But I guess that’s just my special way of working: I can only stand attending meetings if I bring a lot of energy into them. But that isn’t always helpful and effective, especially in such weighty debates.
The consequence I draw from this is that these days I avoid meetings wherever I can. This is easier for me than for some of my colleagues, because I’m a managing director and partner. And I also like to believe that we’ve created a culture at our company that allows you to survive even if you don’t constantly attend meetings.
So, you won’t see me in meetings. That doesn’t mean I’m saying we don’t have any meetings. We have lots of them – and some are probably as pointless as the ones I describe above. But there are also a lot of useful meetings.
A basic rule should be that you only have as many people in a meeting as needed. A meeting usually works quite well with two to three people at the most, even without any preparation. If the group is larger, I strongly recommend introducing rituals and discipline.
If 15 unprepared people come together for a 90-minute meeting with “trade fair planning” on the agenda, fewer results usually come about than when two or three people meet for 25 minutes.
So, what does all this have to do with a digital intranet? Fair question! Well, it has a hell of a lot to do with it, actually. In my view, the lack of a proper intranet as well as a culture that promotes documentation, transparency, and sharing creates wholesale madness.
At our company, meetings are planned in advance. We create a wiki page on the intranet and compile the agenda on the page. Every person attending is invited to make a contribution and get involved. Topics can be added, changed and even completed in advance. Documents can be stored directly in the context with a few mouse clicks.
In our (German) book Enterprise Wikis (see “Recommended Reading”), we also recommend continuing working together on the agenda in the actual meeting as well. This also works on the technical side, because modern solutions support editing by more than one person concurrently. But we don’t do that anymore. At best, one person records the minutes in the wiki while the meeting is going on. Others can also make additions afterward as well, for example.
High-energy meetings are the most productive. At least that’s what we call them. Maybe that sounds a little esoteric to you. Don’t worry, though, don’t let the name fool you. Whatever we call them, high-energy meetings are extremely practical. The idea behind them is simply that the level of energy the people attending have for the topic being discussed should be high. Energy here means that people should actively and consciously participate and contribute to the meeting. You probably know what happens when the energy level is low: you sink into your chair and switch off mentally and perhaps even start checking your emails and texts. Even though you’re physically present, you’re not actually there.
If you have no energy for the subject of a meeting, you shouldn’t attend at all, or you should leave once you’ve voiced your concerns. As a matter of fact, this concept of having your say and then leaving functions well because, with an intranet, everything is documented and transparent. I can see what the meeting is about beforehand and I can see what was discussed afterward. Only rarely are resolutions actually passed in our meetings.
It does sometimes happen that I want to change the original direction to be taken in a meeting. In that case, I present my view and we start to discuss. This conflicting situation often leads to personal one-on-one discussions during which my colleagues tell me what they had in mind. If we can’t agree on anything, which actually happens very rarely, another meeting is arranged. That may appear lacking, but in the second meeting, we usually have enough energy to introduce our ideas and find solutions.
As I write this, I notice that some of the cultural foundations that we have in place in our company resonate here: what’s relevant is documented and made transparent for everyone in the company. Decisions are not made in meetings. And decisions are never final, but are experimental in nature; they can be changed and corrected. I could tell you a lot more about our cultural foundations, but for the moment, let’s stick to the technology and tools and their uses. You can find out a lot more about setting the course in your organization from Lars Vollmer, Niels Pfläging, Gerhard Wohland, and many others (see “Recommended Reading”).
If transparency reigns and decisions are not made in meetings or can be easily revised, staying away from meetings suddenly becomes a possibility. That means that we also hold meetings that very few or even sometimes too few people attend. Many are simply not interested in the topic. They don't have enough energy for them and prefer to only intervene when they find out something is going wrong. As long as the changes remain within the scope of my wishes, I simply let my colleagues get on with the job.
Which brings me to another important foundation of our culture: our employees and teams trust one another to make good and sensible decisions. And they’re also open to criticism and change, even though these are often brought in late. In any case, reality shows me very clearly that the people directly concerned can deal with and solve most of the problems at our company much more systematically, analytically, and sustainably than I can as managing director with the limited amount of time I have at my disposal. Our employees are well informed, feel the consequences of decisions themselves, invest more time in preparing for and thinking through decisions, and in most cases can easily compensate for what I may have in terms of experience.
By the way, it also saves me a lot of time as a manager when I can quickly read through a wiki page on a subject between other things to find out about the current concept, arguments and planned steps, and also find out that it all fits in well with what I think — in some cases even better than I could have imagined myself. The next time we meet in the kitchen, I can talk to my colleagues about it directly, express my approval and gratitude for their ideas – and afterwards nothing more is needed.
Link to this page: https://seibert.biz/intranetbookweightydebate
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