Meetings, Dreadful Meetings

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006

I was very slow to respond to this, but it is still worth noting. On January 6, The New York Times reported that the President of the US held a forty-minute meeting with former secretaries of state and defense. People like Colin Powell, Robert McNamara, Madeleine Albright, and some dozen others attended. The Times speculated that it was “a White House effort to bring its critics into the fold and provide a patina of bipartisan common ground” for White House strategies in Iraq. Although President Bush said, “I’m most grateful for the suggestions that have been given,” he allowed only five to ten minutes of comments during the forty minute meeting.

In other news reports, some participants complained that they were invited to share their views, and then little time was given for honest exchange. Remember these guests were people who had been in positions of great responsibility. They might have had valuable things to say.

By the way, this is not a partisan rant. Democrats, independents, and some say, even Libertarians, hold dreadful meetings as well. But most important to my readers, I see leaders in organizations hold meetings like this one frequently, often accompanied by hours of mind-numbing PowerPoint slides, and ending with a perfunctory question and answer session. When I ask about the purpose of the meeting, the leaders tell me that it was their attempt to build support for some major new initiative.

If you want to hold a meeting to build support, you’ve got to allow people to talk. What to do:
Shift the balance. Talk for no more than 25 percent of the time.
Keep your responses short. It is tempting to give long-winded answers to every question. This takes up valuable time.
Better yet: Encourage dialogue – actual give and take – rather than questions and answers. Q&A sessions assume that you have the answers. But what if they just might have some valuable insights as well? Dialogue allows you to learn something in the exchange as well.

Footnote: Those who wanted to “impart more wisdom” at the President’s meeting were invited across the hall to meet with the national security advisor and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The President, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Vice-President Dick Cheney did not take part in that follow-up meeting.

How often do leaders talk and then turn things over to the HR team or consultants to hear from folks?

You can read my guidelines for holding a planning meeting for more tips:×9.pdfÂ