Meetings often disrupt our well-organized work routines. In some cases, it seems like the sole purpose of a meeting is just to have a meeting, yet participants invest their time and energy in it. The worst meetings feel like short-term imprisonment, with attendees only able to breathe a sigh of relief once released.
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However, meetings can be beneficial, productive, and even vibrant and enjoyable. From my personal experience, I’ve found three meeting approaches that can effectively change the dullness of meetings.
01 – Breakfast Club
I used to be a subordinate of a female leader, helping her collect reports, and every Friday, a few colleagues and I would meet her at a budget restaurant to have breakfast. We always looked forward to arriving early at the restaurant because she attended executive meetings every Thursday, and we had the opportunity to learn about what happened in those meetings during our mealtime.
Valuable gatherings facilitate the flow of information, reduce filtering and speculation, and enhance team cohesion.
My leader was a shrewd person and was indispensable in this special arrangement. She understood that her success and influence were directly related to her ability to effectively manage us. We needed to know who within the company was forming alliances, what major projects were underway, in order to do our jobs effectively. We could ask tricky questions during our Friday breakfast meetings, and she could observe our work attitudes. These meetings also created a sense of intimacy in our work, making the information seem more valuable because we got the “inside scoop.”
You need the support of your subordinates. However, there may be some information that you can’t share with them during regular working hours. The Breakfast Club made us feel like our boss shared common interests with us, and she shared information that was inconvenient to share during work. We built lasting friendships with her, and even after she left the company, our friendship remained intact.
02 – Editorial Meeting
Recently, The Economist published an article explaining how they conduct editorial meetings every Monday morning to discuss topics, select cover stories, determine their stance on global events, and more. The editors at The Economist engage in free and spirited debates during these meetings, discussions that are open and often intense. This meeting gets the editors fired up at the beginning of the week, fully engaged in the work for the new week. While I’ve attended many media gatherings or seminars, I’ve never been part of such a unique meeting.
The reason The Economist’s editorial meetings are so productive lies in their egalitarian nature. Hierarchy is set aside, and everyone is encouraged to contribute, as Ms. Amanda Coletta, the author of the article, writes: “Anyone, from a new intern to the most senior editor, can propose ideas and write articles. It is not the rank of the discussant that matters, but the weight and quality of the argument they put forward.”
Imagine if other companies or organizations—perhaps your own—adopted this approach, how beneficial it could be for the development of those companies or organizations. Participants are the employees of the company or organization, and they can all participate in meetings without reservation. Through such meetings, biases within the company or organization can be mitigated, and employees have the opportunity to hone their critical thinking and constructive argumentation skills.
Starting from September 12, 2001, Boston’s Logan International Airport began receiving daily security updates from various sources, a mix of real and false information. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, officials recognized the importance of enhancing airport security measures. They believed that optimizing the cooperation between different airport agencies and airlines was crucial. As a result, they established a daily meeting.
Since then, this meeting has been held without fail for 16 years, seven days a week. I have been invited to attend their meetings before, which usually had about 70 participants. Attendance is not mandatory; people join because they find the meeting valuable.
The focus of the meeting is to discuss how celebrities or events happening that day or in the near future might impact the airport. For example, the arrival of a renowned championship sports team, an impending storm, and important intelligence or alerts related to the airport. The aim of the meeting is to keep it concise, and anyone can speak up. Even saying, “There’s nothing to report today” is an acceptable contribution. However, speakers must keep it brief and use straightforward language to convey information. The meeting doesn’t have a fixed duration; it can be as short as 10 minutes or as long as an hour.
This is an efficient way to connect, share, receive information, and ask questions. It is also a critical component of building a lasting culture. For large corporations or organizations, cross-organizational collaboration is the norm, and meetings like this one eliminate potential information gaps and misunderstandings that can arise from a complex web of communication channels. Participants often benefit from these meetings.
While these three types of meetings are distinct, they share some common core elements:
- Well-Organized Meeting Facilitation:
Meeting organizers must lay a proper foundation for the meeting. This involves inviting the right people and only the right people, defining the meeting’s purpose, format, agenda, making necessary decisions, and specifying the expected outcomes. They also need to ensure the meeting starts on time and that the agenda is effectively followed.
- Systematic Perspective:
To make informed decisions, relevant information must flow to the right people at the right time. Valuable meetings can enhance work efficiency, minimize filtering and speculation, and strengthen team cohesion.
- Choosing the Appropriate Communication Method:
Organizers need to determine whether participants should receive information simultaneously or engage in sequential discussions. They should decide where and how the meeting will take place based on the circumstances. For instance, if participants cannot digest information all at once, it’s best not to cram too many people into the same room. In breakfast club meetings, where participant reactions and discussions are equally important, the strength of relationships among attendees must be considered.
- Consideration of Return on Investment (ROI):
Even in in-person meetings (compared to remote video conferences), costs are incurred. Attendees should roughly calculate the time spent in the meeting in terms of their salary and factor in the time cost. Based on this, they can estimate their investment return. What can each attendee contribute to the meeting, and what can they gain in return? What can the organization or company gain through the meeting?