The Meeting Dilemma

Humans have a complicated relationship with meetings. We need to meet but we don’t always do it well. Hybrid work adds another tricky layer. Host Melanie Green explores our love-hate relationship with meetings, why they matter, and how they could even be the highlight of your day.

PODCAST | 20m
October 6, 2021
S4:Ep2

Executive summary

  • If your meetings are tightly focused and don’t waste everyone’s time, that’s a sign of respect.
  • When you have clear goals, people can express themselves best.
  • In a hybrid work world, adjusting how we do meetings is a must.

Featured voices

Kristin Arnold
President and Founder
Quality Process Consultants, Inc.

Kim Hudson
Writer and Workshop Facilitator

Melanie Green (host):

I’m always learning new things. Like, I have a new role at work this year. The biggest change? More meetings. A lot more meetings. And I’ve got to say, I’m not really a meeting person. But I’m learning that meetings are a strange beast. Everybody talks about how they don’t like meetings, but it’s not that we don’t like meetings, we just don’t like bad meetings.

Melanie Green (host):

I’m Melanie Green. This is Remote Works - Hybrid Survival Guide, an original podcast by Citrix. Today, no more bad meetings.

 

Kristin Arnold:

Statistically over 50% of the meetings in corporate America are not as productive as they could be.

Melanie Green (host):

That’s Kristin Arnold.  Kristin describes herself as a high-stakes meeting facilitator.  Someone who makes sure that important meetings are successful. She has three tips that will change your meeting mindset. We started by talking about just how big the problem with meetings is.

 

Meetings need to have a purpose

 

Kristin Arnold:

And it's probably based on the typical suspects that make meetings bad. And so leaders that come to me, they already know what is wrong and they kind of already know what they can do better, but it's about being intentional and being purposeful versus just, Hey, let's have a meeting. Let's everybody show up.

Melanie Green (host):

Right? I have so many regular weekly meetings but how often do we ask ourselves, ‘Why are we meeting’? 

Kristin Arnold:

What is the point of this meeting? And making sure that it's crystal clear what the objectives are, what the desired results are and what the deliverable is, what are people gonna walk out of the room with? And I think a lot of people just throw people in a room and expect miracles to happen. And it's like, no, you have to be intentional in thinking through, so what results am I looking for? What's the process I'm going to use?  And do I have the right people in the room? And what am I doing to ensure that there is a space for people to be able to speak comfortably and clearly, and make good decisions? Because the real work doesn't get done in the meeting. A team comes together to make plans, coordinate, decide things, but it's all about after the meeting. What are you going to do after the meeting? So making sure that you have a clear action plan when you're leaving the meeting.

 

Melanie Green (host):

I love that. That’s Kristin’s first tip to eliminate bad meetings. Answer two big questions: Why am I having the meeting and what is the action plan after the meeting. That makes sense. So define the purpose of the meeting and actionable next steps. But really, life’s never that simple. And there are a lot of things that can get in the way of trying to keep a meeting on track. One of the key ones is when you let your meetings get too big. I’ve often wondered what is the right number of people in the meeting?  I’ve been in meetings where I’m terrified to speak up in front of forty colleagues - or simply don’t get a chance because so many people are weighing in or I don’t bother because I just want the meeting to end. But now that all of my meetings are on video, I feel like I need to be there just to have a presence.

Kristin Arnold:

What's going on right now, especially in the virtual world, because it's so easy to hop onto a meeting -  is that you have FOMO going on and that's like, oh, well, if I'm not in that meeting, what am I missing? So ideally you want maybe 5, 6, 7 tops, 8 people, because otherwise you're going to have to go into small groups.

 

Keep meeting size down

 

Melanie Green (host):

So that’s Kristin’s second takeaway for meetings - keep the size down.  That especially applies to virtual meetings. And she’s right. There’s not much point in crowding into a meeting that you probably won’t get to take part in anyway. But you do need to have a presence as a hybrid worker: to let people know that you’re engaged and on top of things. So team leaders should ensure that everybody knows their role. People need to know why they’re in a meeting and they need to be clear on whether they need to be there for the meeting to be a success.

Kristin Arnold:

Email back to the meeting leader. Go you know, do I need to be in this meeting or can I just get debriefed afterwards? Because most meetings should have somebody who just captures the key things that were discussed. Here are the action items from it. Hugs and kisses, send it out to everybody who was in the meeting and anybody who's in what I call the big black hole, the spaces in the organizational chart between the people who were in the meeting and the sponsor of the meeting, the person who's most interested in seeing that team be successful And there's usually people in that PowerPoint org chart that aren't in the meeting that are feeling like maybe I should be in the meeting. Well no, just send them the meeting minutes.

Melanie Green (host):

So for the team leaders out there, remember to fill everyone in with the highlights afterwards, keep them in the loop,  and help them understand how the outcomes apply to their role. And leaders can also keep in mind that the people who haven’t been invited -  more junior employees for example - they might need a little reassurance about WHY they’re not there.

 

Kristin Arnold:

So there's a little FOMO going on in that, ‘oh, maybe I should be invited to that meeting too’ and unless you consciously debrief Junior, Junior is in the big black hole.

Melanie Green (host):

Keeping people informed and engaged is especially important in hybrid work. So is respecting everyone’s time. That brings us to point number 3. Kristin pulls no punches on this one, so get ready. It’s going to be a little controversial.

 

Cut back on presentations

 

Kristin Arnold:

One of the things that drives me crazy about meetings is it's not about presentations. If you're going to have a presentation in a meeting that's called a waste of time.If you want to do an overview to remind people, fine. But it should not be a presentation because I can watch a presentation at my own speed in my own time. In fact, 1.5 times speed is great for me. I don't need to be spoon fed information. And we do it because it's always been done that way. And we feel like people need to be spoon fed. We need to retrain our teams that we're not going to spend the time and if you didn't take the time to do that pre-work, sorry. We're still moving. So in order to prepare for a meeting, you have to really think through what are the objectives, who's going to be in the room? How long do I have?

 

Melanie Green (host):

Do I hear some cheering out there? Maybe a couple of boos? Presentations can be a valuable way to download information. There’s no argument there. But sharing them in advance can make your meetings faster and more productive. It means you’re being aware of your co-workers’ schedules. It’s an empathic approach that’s so important when you’re managing a hybrid team. Which of course is easier said than done. Some people might not like the idea of doing prep work before a meeting. But it pays off.  And you have to find a balance between wasting people’s time and piling on too much reading material beforehand. The fact is, when it comes to meetings, everyone has their own unique preferences: who should be there, leadership styles, what’s on the agenda. And when it comes to hybrid work, there’s a whole additional layer. Like for example, the never-ending debate about cameras.

 

Camera on vs. camera off

 

Sofya:

For me, meetings are my preferred way of working. One thing I will say, one thing that I do not like, is taking meetings with people when they're off camera.

 

Melanie Green (host):

That’s Sofya. She works as an HR program manager. 

 

Sofya:

If you want to make your virtual meetings feel better for people and feel like they're actually interacting, you need to ask people to turn their cameras on and be present on camera rather than video off, they're probably not listening’.

 

Melanie Green (host):

Sounds reasonable. But then meet Stefan.

 

Stefan:

I actually just prefer a straight phone call because at least we're not pretending that we're close. We acknowledge that there’s distance.

Melanie Green (host):

Stefan is a freelancer who has been working full time remotely since 2019. He is firmly committed to no video.  Ever.

 

Stefan:

I never used video. It was really interesting because my clients that I've worked with pre-pandemic and through the pandemic, many of them did not care at all that we only did phone calls pre-pandemic, and then all of a sudden it was ‘I'm at home. We should do a video’. And I'm like, I don't want to do that. So a lot of the time I'd actually just pretend that my video camera wasn't working. Sorry to any clients that hear this. And other times I would just straight up say, Hey, do we really need to do video right now? And half the time it was, ‘You know what? No, we don't’. And then we'd have a very lovely phone call.

 

Sofya:

It just happens to be that I am a very extroverted problem solver. And so for me, the way that I solve problems or the way that I retain information is by verbalizing it. So I will always get further if I have a meeting with someone else where we are verbalizing solving a problem together, than if I was doing it on my own internally or via email. 

 

Melanie Green (host):

So how do we get the Sofyas and Stefans of the world to just get along?  Kristin Arnold looks at the common ground in a situation like this. She says we’re missing the big picture. It’s not whether cameras are off or on. It’s more than that. It’s how we are connecting as people.

 

Use technology to connect in a meaningful way

 

Kristin Arnold:

We've been meeting as human beings since the beginning of time. So I think that the core element of meetings will always be important. That we as human beings come together and make decisions about how we want to move forward, that we're going to coordinate and plan. I think that core element is going to stay the same. The how we do it, so for example, we used to do it face to face then, oh my gosh, we had the phone. So then there was this amazing thing. You remember this, this, we used to have like conference calls. Oh yeah. That’s what they’re called. This technology has been around, this virtual technology has been around for 18 years. This is not new. However, the adoption rate has gone up significantly. So because the adoption rate is up significantly, I think you're going to see a lot more technology innovations. And so I would say start leveraging the functionality and the features that are integrated into any platform, any functionality and features that are brought to fore. I love using some of the features that people go, oh, I didn't even know that that was there, and then they start using it because they start seeing how, how functional it is, how helpful it is or how fun it is.

Melanie Green (host):

Kristin likes to have fun. It’s her way of keeping the human element on top of the tech rather than the other way around. And it’s her way of making sure that everyone gets heard and is a part of the meeting.

 

Kristin Arnold:

So even before the pandemic, what I would love to do is, you've got the speaker-phone in the middle of the room and you've got the people at the boardroom table or wherever. I like to actually get pictures of the people who are not in the room, but on the speaker phone and put them around the room on the table, little plastic stands of their headshot, so we don't forget them. If you're going to have your picture of all the people working virtually, I'm much more intentional about calling on people in the virtual world. So when you're looking at hybrid meetings, I'll hit the remote people first before the people in the room.

 

Melanie Green (host):

How about a quick review. Kristin Arnold’s three big tips for making your meetings sizzle, both remote and in person: tip number one: Answer two big questions: why am I having the meeting and what is the action plan after the meeting. Tip number two: keep the size of the meeting down. No blanket invites, but always update those who aren’t invited. Tip number three: don’t waste time with presentations. Distribute the decks and videos in advance to save everyone’s time.  And underlying all of these points for the hybrid set-up many of us are in now, always give your remote employees the same visibility as those who are in the office.

And most importantly, it’s all about connection. Because when you get right down to it, that’s what a meeting is. People connecting. That last idea is more abstract  particularly when it comes to hybrid work but it’s worth digging into a bit. That’s why I want you to meet Kim Hudson. She’s an author and a workshop facilitator. Kim places great importance on using the meeting as a way for people to connect and not just in some warm and fuzzy afternoon talk-show kind of way but as a way to create a strong team that can produce results. So she’s divided meetings up into two very different categories. One is a linear meeting with a clearly defined goal, the other is a circular meeting that’s all about listening and connection.

Linear vs. circular meetings

Kim Hudson:

And I think if we really step way back, there's two big intentions. One is that we have a very clear defined goal. And we're trying to make progress on it. So in that case, I want to know that there's a leader there that can take charge of things, make sure we're moving along, there's a good agenda, that I’m prepared and that we at the end have all our agreed upon tasks, and we know everybody's standing as far as how we're going to be successful in the end. So that's one type of meeting. Another type of meeting is completely different than that. The intention of the meeting is to create relationships, to understand where every person in the room, where they stand on a certain issue with the hope that we can through that understanding, make unexpected connections or find some sort of overlap, reach towards each other. And maybe in that overlap, we're going to find some group wisdom. The purpose. Why we do what we do. And that kind of meeting is very different. You have to create a safe feeling in the room and you have to model authentic sharing and that feelings are okay. You can share your feelings here. Actually your feelings are the gold that's going to get us to purpose. And so that kind of meeting is very different.

Melanie Green (host):

Kim Hudson is talking about the fine art of team building. As a geologist, writer and workshop facilitator, Kim has had a diverse career that calls for many different kinds of meetings. Like Kristin Arnold, Kim is big on connection. And she’s given serious thought on how to  structure a circular meeting for hybrid work and achieve that connection by building relationships.

Kim Hudson:

If you're in a circle where everybody's going to get a time to speak, you need to know when your turn is. And if you're a bunch of boxes that move around, according to who's speaking, you don’t know. So there needs to be a way for there to be a visual of a circle that you have both when you're in a room and when you're on the computer. You might even want to put chairs in the room so that the person who is going to have that turn at that time, everybody in the room knows that chair represents that person. And that means that we're just always present in our minds that that viewpoint has to be held in this meeting. Sometimes they even put a person in there to represent it. So I would say that it's really important that you need to have a visual of when you're listening and when it's your turn.

 

Melanie Green (host):

This may sound a little touchy-feely but here’s the thing: these circular meetings can produce results when a traditional linear meeting cannot.

Kim Hudson:

Well, me personally, as a geologist, a scientist or a land claim negotiator, all of these were linear meetings. Like they were very much about trying to make progress. I've had some great meetings where there was a big decision to be made and a board was stymied. They couldn't make a decision and they'd been trying for months and they were basically just pushing against each other.  And that's when you know you're in a linear meeting. You are always pushing back against what you don't want to happen. And so when I brought everybody together and we actually went for lunch, I wanted to humanize the experience of being together. And then I just went around the circle. They were trying to decide about whether their director needed to be let go. And so instead of everybody presenting their evidence, I said, let's just go around and ask everybody when they sort of think about it, what does it take to be a good leader for this company? And we just went around and, and that was non-confrontational. Everybody could listen to each other. And then when we got to one of the people who was the most adamant that this person was not to be fired, he said, you know what? I've just flipped my opinion. Because when I do think about what it takes to be a good leader, this is a good person and all sorts of things, but he's not got the qualities we need for this particular company. And so then it changed the focus. Now they had a goal. They had a consensus on what they wanted to do, and then things fall into place.

 

Listening yields powerful results

 

Melanie Green (host):

So those soft skills like listening and letting people talk can yield very powerful results. That ability to reach out and connect with your coworkers both in and out of the office is how we are going to be successful in this new world of hybrid work.

Kim Hudson:

I think the biggest thing we're talking about is the parts that are about our humanity. It's how are we relating to each other and keeping our humanity, even though we're separate from each other and things like that. And I think as much a leadership problem or a leadership gift I guess, is to really be able to create environments where people feel safe to be circular, to, to share their feelings, to be vulnerable.

 

Melanie Green (host):

Kim Hudson talks about the human connection of meetings. And Kristin Arnold gives us no-nonsense advice about making meetings better. So the question is: do their philosophies align? I say absolutely. If your meetings are tightly focussed and don’t waste everyone’s time, that’s a sign of respect. Just like listening.

And when you have clear goals, people will be able to focus and express themselves better. And that’s when the meeting magic happens.  And all of this advice holds especially true for hybrid work - when leaders are dealing with the added challenges of keeping everyone on equal footing, wherever they’re working.

You’ve been listening to Remote Works, Hybrid Survival Guide, an original podcast on Fieldwork by Citrix. Next time, cybersecurity attacks are evolving and more complicated than ever.  We’ll hear how to better protect ourselves. Subscribe and come back in two weeks.  That’s at Citrix dot com slash remote works.

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