This week is a series of “strategy” sessions at work, at Team Read, and at my son’s school. Three different days, three different sessions, with three different outcomes, to be sure, but all in the same purpose nonetheless: the brief-but-effective review of where we’ve been, a lengthy-and-detailed review of where we are going to go, and an even lengthier discussion and documentation of how we’re going to get there.
Inasmuch as these things tend to be annual — the Board Retreat for Team Read is an annual event, the Long Range Planning meeting at work is (theoretically) an annual event, and Curriculum/Back To School is an annual event — there is an overriding reassurance that we’re not doing this once and dropping it. Oh no. There are meetings scheduled throughout the year, there are metrics (donations/students served, legitimate scenarios satisfied for customers, grades), there is inherent and ongoing accountability.
As a slightly OCD, check box-oriented, black-and-white mentality, I find these meetings extremely validating and reinforcing. We will have a Plan, everyone will know what the Plan is, we will all agree on how we Measure the Plan, we will all agree on who is Working the Plan, we will all agree when the Boxes are Checked. The meetings themselves typically offer the ability to plan for the meeting itself– meta-OCD, for the win! — and involve lots of discussion and interaction and cooperation to get off the ground. I thrive on all of that. One of the reasons I like my job, and I like Team Read, and I am getting to like my son’s school more (especially as I learn what words to say and who to go to to actually implement stuff), is that beyond the “annual” cycle, the interim meetings, and even days, all carry this reinforcement of Plans and Expectations and Actions.
As a person who expects everyone to operate in the same hyperactive, insomniac, black-and-white world I operate in (to the admitted dearth of personal time, which those around me politely point out when it gets bad), these meetings come with a tinge of apprehension and dread. What if we set our expectations too high, or too low? What if we don’t all come to consensus (or politely agree to disagree on some points and actually come up with a working plan)? What if I talk too much or not enough? What if people get bored?
I once sat in on one of these meetings, back in my Expedia days, in a beautiful conference room in Montreal. It was a series of speakers — speaker A spoke for an hour, speaker B spoke for an hour, etc. ad nauseam. The meeting lasted all day, as they do, and it included boxed lunches and bio breaks and the like. During one of the breaks — probably 3 hours in — my coworker to my left turned to me and asked, “Can you literally not sit still?” I had been bouncing my leg, making notes (about the meeting and not about the meeting), asking questions, making more notes, etc. pretty incessantly. I was not completely bored, but I was not fully engaged.
Books upon books, and now blog upon blogs, have been written to avoid meeting boredom. The advice varies from the basics (be brief, use lots of different media to get your point across, avoid Death by PowerPoint) to more rigorous applications (if it can be handled in email, don’t meet; if it takes longer than an hour, then set up follow-on meetings, etc.) No one seems to have cracked the meeting code, although for several-hour-long meetings I think breakout sessions and interactive pieces are imperative. What is invariable is the desire of the meeting host(s), or attendees, to make the most productive use of their time.
In the meeting I had yesterday — the final, and longest of these, the Board Retreat for Team Read in which we mapped out the actual implementation plan for our Strategy plan — we spent a good deal of time talking about how we would work together, both for the day and ongoing. We laid out the things we felt it important to note and be and have in our meetings and our interactivity, such as responsiveness, initiative, debate, etc. At one point the entire left side of a 16′ long whiteboard was filled with requirements and aspirations for meetings and basic work.
I’m not going to list them all out here. 🙂
However, I am going to take the time to parse some of them out and elaborate on my view of each of them, one post at a time, over the next few months. I think there’s value in some of the “A-ha!” moments of the day, and I think the primary value is how to remove the apprehensive, or dread aspect, of meetings.