Like all of you, I attend a lot of meetings! Meeting are a necessary evil in our lives. We have to get together to discuss, brainstorm, report, decide, and to share. But do they have to be "evil"? No one starts, leads or participates in a meeting with the intent of wasting time, but more often than not it happens.
A meeting is an event where minutes are taken and hours wasted. -Captain James T Kirk
I have been in, led, and endured thousands of meetings. I am guilty as anyone on not doing my part to make that experience more meaningful. I can not go into all the ways that an effective meeting should be run or organized. Most often the number one benefit of a successful meeting is the networking. I want to focus on this networking and relationship opportunity we can miss when we meet.
Just in the last week I attended face to face (F2F) meetings, an online/teleconference meeting, and a purely telephonic meeting. Not referring to regular check-in meetings that by their nature must be highly transactional, but periodic gatherings to get ideas and push an agenda.
I traveled 14 hours roundtrip and stayed overnight for 7.5 hours of meeting. So basically 3 hours of travel to 1 hour of meeting. So you would expect the payoff to be great. Let me be clear, the value of F2F is immeasurable in establishing and nurturing trust. Online and virtual relationships and work are definitely enhanced when anchored to good F2F time. I also attended a kick-off meeting for an event and both a quarterly and a semi-annual board meeting. As I said I attend a lot of meetings. In all three of these meetings people traveled great distances and took out time from their busy lives as volunteers. It's a very different story if one is being paid for their time.
The single biggest benefit of bringing people together is strengthening the network. Strengthening the sense of commonality, community and camaraderie. We all know once these virtues are emboldened then cooperation and productivity go up. We all know that we need to do "the work" but we want to gain perspective and learn a few things too. We constantly yearn for new intellectual connections that help us think about what we do and why.
In my humble opinion, I think meetings that network need to have these basic components:
- Introductions–More than the business card and name rank and serial number. A little something that gives insight and background that would help the members connect. Ice breakers for even the long serving of groups can reveal new connections. Amazing who you know who you don't know.
- Connections–Time for people to informally talk without the gavel and the chair. Over meals, or in an activity–time for the most powerful networking.
- Perspectives–Brief report outs from every member on the the best and worst things about their professional and personal worlds. This is a timed and well moderated session.
- Reflection–A very brief wrap-up session (30-60 seconds each)that allows for quick observations from every member about the quality of the meeting and insights gained.
So let me rate 2 of the meetings I attended based upon the quality of the networking.
Meeting A was a full day of discussions and actions. It was a day filled with great conversation and decisions. An "effective" meeting that did little for networking.
- No ice breaker or intro exercise
- No sharing of perspectives
- Good informal networking time with a small group break out activity
- No reflection at all
1 networking point—Weak networking meeting
While people appreciate the efficiency and effectiveness of this meeting, they wanted a bit more humanity and connection without wasting time. A tall order, but one that has to be at least sought.
Meeting B was another full day that may have been even more successful and effective than Meeting A. I would say that this was due to the investment into and integration of the networking.
- Ice breaker that revealed surprising commonalities and differences
- No sharing of perspectives
- Good informal networking over meals that were not programmed
- Reflection time which provided ideas and momentum for the future
3 networking points—Strong networking meeting
If we meet then lets network.
In designing, chairing and participating in meetings think about the value of networking. Making connections advances "the work", gives us valuable insights, and justifies our extraordinary investment of time.
Thanks for reading. John