It’s not just about the tech, we also need to think differently

Zoom
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Over the last 18 months virtually all of my meetings have been on Teams or Zoom, or once on Google Meet. I can probably count the number of in-person meetings I have had on the fingers on one hand.

As with most people’s experiences, the experience hasn’t been excellent or even good, it’s either been okay or awful.

Over the next twelve months, I am still expecting that most of my meetings will still be on Teams or Zoom.

So how could we make things better?

The BBC published this article: Can better tech make video meetings less excruciating?

On most video conference calls, only one person gets to speak at a time. It’s a deliberate, designed feature of platforms such as Zoom. But as Susan D Blum’s linguistic anthropology class found out, it makes having a natural conversation practically impossible.

Though the technology can be a limiting factor with this, part of the problem is we are trying to replicate what we do in-person and do it online using a tool such as Zoom. The reality is that the nuances of what made the in-person experience so effective are lost when we translate to digital and we also don take advantage of the affordances that digital can bring.

So technological solutions are only part of the solution, the other key aspect is transformation.

There is some aspects of understanding why you need the meeting in the first place.

Meeting
Image by Ronald Carreño from Pixabay

Even though all my meetings these days are online meetings I found this article by Atlassian on making meetings better, useful and interesting.

Running effective meetings isn’t simply a matter of doing the obvious things like sharing the agenda and starting on time. While those things are important, they’re just table stakes. The real key to running a great meeting is organizing and running them with a human touch – not like some corporate management automaton.

They have a useful flow chart as well.

When it comes to meetings the article also says

Meetings should never be held for the sole purpose of sharing information – that’s what email, chat, and company intranets are for.

The fact that many video meetings are excruciating or awful, maybe that before the in-person meetings were equally excruciating or awful, but we didn’t recognise this and the tech has exacerbated the problem.

So before looking for technological solutions to meetings, start reflecting on why you are having a meeting in the first place.

      • What are the objectives of having the meeting?
      • Do you actually need a live face to face online meeting?
      • Could you meet the objectives in a different way?

A simple example, you need to review some content or a document. You could do this in asynchronous live online meeting, but this isn’t always very efficient. Online can exacerbate those inefficiencies and make for a less useful and rewarding experience.

An alternative approach could be to undertake an asynchronous review of the meeting, using comments and collaboration on a shared document. It would take “longer” than a meeting, you might need a week or a few days, but people could choose as and when to engage with the process.

meeting
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

One kind of meeting I attend a lot are catch-up meetings, where we go around the “room” and provide an update on what we are doing and is happening.

I refer to Atlassian again: Meetings should never be held for the sole purpose of sharing information – that’s what email, chat, and company intranets are for.

So post your updates on Teams, Yammer or the intranet.

One of the reasons why we don’t do that, is because people don’t read the stuff they are sent, don’t engage with collaborative processes, or ignore company intranets and tools such as Yammer. As a result we have meetings, which we know people will attend.

The perspective we can solve engagement issues by having meetings, and so we need to improve the online meetings, misses the key problem, which is the lack of engagement. This is a leadership and management challenge not just about improving online meetings.

People have a personal responsibility to engage with corporate communication, give them choice, make it easier, but to think you solve it by having a meeting, is a similar thinking that people read all their e-mail.

Could write more, but I have to go to a meeting!

Better meetings

meeting
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

Even though all my meetings these days are online meetings I found this article by Atlassian on making meetings better, useful and interesting.

Running effective meetings isn’t simply a matter of doing the obvious things like sharing the agenda and starting on time. While those things are important, they’re just table stakes. The real key to running a great meeting is organizing and running them with a human touch – not like some corporate management automaton.

They have a useful flow chart as well.

When it comes to meetings the article also says

Meetings should never be held for the sole purpose of sharing information – that’s what email, chat, and company intranets are for.

I have been reflecting on meetings at my place of work and how they could be better.

We have meetings, however rather than focus just on making meetings more effective, it helps to understand the purpose and objective of what needs to be done, and then understand if a meeting is the best way to achieve this.

We clarify and agree the objectives of what we are trying to achieve and then identify the best practice to achieve these. We make better use of asynchronous tools for communication and collaboration and use live synchronous tools to achieve objectives which may require a meeting. We should not ignore the social aspect of people coming together and that may be an aim which can be satisfied by meeting (either on Teams or in-person).

We may want to abandon the concept of the regular meeting and only meet when there is a business need or problem that needs to be resolved.

We may want to take time to inform each other via other platforms and channels and each will need to take responsibility to access those platforms.

Meeting
Image by Ronald Carreño from Pixabay

If we are to have meetings then it is important to plan and prepare for that meeting. This isn’t just about having an agenda.

Any meeting should be planned to ensure that the following is in place:

  • Inform
  • What is being discussed
  • Why it is being discussed
  • What you hope to achieve
  • Anticipate information and people

What is the point of the meeting?

  • Do you need to have a meeting?
  • Keep the meetings on target
  • They are not about problem solving
  • Prepare ahead of time, not during the meeting
  • Meetings should be short
  • Don’t wait, if it says 9:30am, then start at 9:30am
  • Have rules about who speaks and when
  • Focus on the meeting, don’t do other stuff during the meeting

Catch-up meetings (stand up)

  • What did you do since the last meeting? 
    • Team members comment on whether or not their commitments from the previous meeting were met.
  • What will you do next? 
    • Team members explain what they’re working on today and will have done by the next meeting.
  • What issues do you have? 
    • Team members explain where they are running into trouble with certain aspects of the project, work, etc…

One important thing to note is that for the meetings to be effective, problems can’t be solved during the meetings. These issues may not affect the whole team. As a result, spending an excessive amount of time discussing these issues with everyone is not a productive use of team time. After the meeting, schedule a problem-solving session with the individuals who these effect. Such an approach will allow for targeted resolution.

Meetings should be followed up by some kind of list of actions with responsibilities and timeframes (SMART). There isn’t always a need for detailed minutes, but a clear list of actions should be shared and reviewed.

Zoom
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

I also liked this section from the Atlassian article on the differences between effective and efficient.

It’s important to distinguish between effective and efficient.

An efficient meeting starts promptly, stays on track due to good time management, includes as few people as possible, and achieves the stated objective. Job done, right? Wrong. Efficiency is a superficial quality. It says nothing about whether the right people were in the room for the right reasons, or whether the meeting generated any value for the business.

An effective meeting brings a thoughtfully selected group of people together for a specific purpose, provides a forum for open discussion, and delivers a tangible result: a decision, a plan, a list of great ideas to pursue, a shared understanding of the work ahead. Not only that, but the result is then shared with others whose work may be affected.

Though a lot of these principles apply to both online and in-person meetings, the current situation which means we have to always default to the online meeting, means even more importantly that we need to do better meetings.

Could write more, but I have to go to a meeting!

Why have the meeting then?

Still useful and relevant, 44 years later….

Well there wasn’t anything anyone wanted to talk about!

Why have the meeting then?

It’s the weekly meeting!

This staff training film from Video Arts, Meetings Bloody Meetings,  has been quite influential on how I approach meetings and how I feel about meetings.

The fact that this film is 44 years old and I still think others could learn from it, shows how challenging it can be to change the cultures within organisations. However it can be done.