Agendas

Terri Griffith asks: Do you really need a meeting?. Most people in organisations will tell you that meetings are the bane of their lives and wish they could avoid more of them.

This picture which I’ve blogged before, periodically gets picked up and retweeted, for that reason:

Terri goes on to suggest some ways of avoiding meeting hell – in particular pointing to ways to get things done without meetings. As I said here, sometimes the act of calling a meeting can actually get in the way of anything being done before it.

On the other hand, I’m a bit cautious of Terri’s suggestion not to go a meeting that doesn’t have an agenda. I don’t think an agenda provides much certainty that a meeting will be satisfying. I’ll try to elaborate.

I quite often hear people anxiously demanding agendas at the start of meetings. This can be just a status play, and I notice that these demands are often not backed up by any specific statement of what that person wants for themselves. We risk ending up posturing over abstractions about “actions” and “priorities” as if these can ever really happen without people taking a stand for something fairly specific that they want.

Quite a lot of the best meetings I go to are where something suprising happens that isn’t on the agenda. It often happens when people are willing to take a more adventurous or playful attitude. I discussed this more here. Our vigorous efforts to make our meetings efficient risk killing off the things that can actually make them most worthwhile.

I also dug up some great quotes from Patricia Shaw which elaborate on this, in this old post.

Hat tip: @elsua

Update: After writing this, I wanted to add that refusing to show up for a meeting can sometimes be a useful intervention, at the very least for the person doing it. It’s certainly an option I exercise on a regular basis!

3 thoughts on “Agendas

  1. Terri Griffith

    Hi Johnnie,

    I think we’re in the same chapter if not exactly on the same page. I agree that there are great benefits to the unexpected, but I call those meetings, “coffee.” If it’s going to be free-form, I’d prefer everyone know that going in – and come with that kind of open attitude. I’m also happy to have things go off agenda. So, here’s to agreeing to being respectful of our own and others’ time -whatever we call it and however we get there.

    You also raise a great point about status plays of “what’s the agenda” at the beginning of a meeting. Can’t think of a worst time to ask that question — too late for people to be prepared.

    Look forward to more of these conversations!

    Reply
  2. Chris Corrigan

    Another way to force agendas to be useful is to invite people only to include questions on the agenda. That way we give really good clear intention to the thing we want others to help us with. Agendas should be invitations, even to staff meetings. What is the question? Why do you need me to come? How can I help you?

    Reply
  3. Johnnie Moore

    Interesting perspective, Chris. It connects to a thought I’ve been mulling for a while. It strikes me that meetings often default to exchanges of certainties which can be quite brittle. I think more powerful exchanges can happen when we start sharing what we aren’t sure about.

    Reply

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