If people show up for your meetings unprepared, confused about what a meeting is about, or engaged in “planned distractions” such as texting, email and preparing reports, chances are you’ve been vague about the meeting purpose.
Pain starts when there’s lack of shared understanding about the meeting purpose,
Here’s an analogy: each person in this photo has their own purpose (for example, provide the right amount of anesthesia). Yet all are contributing collaboratively to the group purpose of successful surgery.
Similarly, in your business meetings, each person who attends has their own purpose. Maybe it’s to gauge the impact of a decision about resources under their direction. Maybe it’s to provide anecdotal historical perspective related to a new initiative. In addition to each person’s individual purpose, there should also be an explicitly stated meeting purpose that is shared by everyone attending and reflects the goals or desired outcomes for the meeting.
Too often, the group meeting purpose is left undefined or is stated so vaguely it is easily misunderstood. Do a quick check of your calendar. How many of the meetings you’ve been invited to this week do not cite a specific meeting purpose in the calendar invite?
I just checked my calendar and here’s what I see: I’ve been invited to “Discuss Proposed Dates”, “Lunch”, and “Project Call”. In each of these invites, because the meeting purpose isn’t specific, I will guess, rather than know, what the organizer or others need me to contribute. I’m therefore very unlikely to do any preparation for the meeting. And that means we’ll spend the first part of the meeting trying to figure out what the meeting is meant to accomplish only to discover some people (including me?) aren’t prepared to accomplish it.
What if, instead of “Discuss Proposed Dates”, the invitation subject was, “Decide Which 2017 Dates will Work for the Team for Phase II Efforts”? In that case, I’d come to the meeting knowing what dates work for me, be ready to hear about what works for others, and recognize I might have to make some adjustments in my schedule to accommodate others. Others invited to the meeting would likely do the same. As a result, we’d be able to efficiently and productively reach decisions about dates we can all live with.
On the other hand, not knowing the specific meeting purpose of those invites on my calendar might lead me to think I can just email some details about my schedule rather than show up to “Discuss Project Dates”. Or I might assume “Lunch” isn’t as important as other priorities so I’ll cancel and hope to reschedule for next month. Or, since I’m not the project manager, I might plan to work on my finance reports while others focus on the “Project Call”. And I could be very wrong about any of those conclusions.
These are simple examples that illustrate how I need to know, and so do you, the specific purpose for each meeting we’re invited to so we can:
- Align our individual purpose to the meeting purpose, and
- Effectively contribute to accomplishing both.