This weekend’s WSJ printed an excerpt from a forth coming book by Donald Rumsfeld regarding meetings. As Rumsfeld has held posts as a CEO and Secretary of Defense, he should know something about this.
Here’s the meat of it…
- Do we need a meeting? “The default tendency in any bureaucracy, especially in government, is to substitute discussion for decision-making. If you are the leader of an organization and call a meeting, make sure you have something to communicate or need to learn in a group setting. If the meeting is to be purely informational, without much back and forth, that information could probably be as easily relayed in a memo or email.”
- Avoid a meandering session. Rumsfeld says “When I moved into my first executive position in government in 1969, I had a stand-up desk…. standing up while working tends to be an incentive for those who come in for a discussion to say what they need to say, and not linger”.
- Invite the right people. He thinks that generally too many unnecessary people are invited to meetings.
- Start and end on time. This is universal meeting advice.
- Be prepared and expect preparedness. “During meetings, I confess to being less than patient with folks who bring up irrelevant information or are ill-prepared. I also tend to lack patience with PowerPoint presentations that convey obvious information or slides with grammatical errors and that lack page numbers. There were occasions when I abruptly ended a meeting in progress and advised the participants that we would reconvene when everyone had had time to fully prepare. The response was usually surprised looks all around. In my experience some leaders don’t end meetings when it’s clear they’ve become a waste of time. Instead they sit there and let the meeting experience a slow, painful death.”
- “Encourage others to give their views, even if it may ruffle some feathers.”
- And then expect resistance to new thinking. “Keep in mind that when new ideas are broached in a meeting, there is often an instinctive and immediate opposition. Large bureaucracies can be masterful at creating an insular and self-serving culture in which people reinforce each other and become captive to what becomes the conventional wisdom. Meetings are a good place to discover whether an organization might be suffering from groupthink. If everyone in the room seems convinced of the brilliance of an idea, it may be a sign that the organization would benefit from more dissent and debate.”
- Summarize important points and action items. Also, he says “I’ve found it can also be helpful to offer a last opportunity for anyone in the room to speak up by my asking, ‘Is there anything else?’ or ‘What have we missed?’ There often is something important that someone was thinking of saying and never found the opportunity for.”