How many times have you heard professionals talk about how they had meetings and returned to the office with a bunch of work to do? It’s as if meetings with others were a waste of time. And, really, how can meetings with others become a waste of time when it’s hard to imagine companies that function on the sole work of one person? What is really going on?
In my view, the problem is a lack of discipline in most meetings. Undisciplined meetings – meetings without proper organization or conscious “real” relating – can leave one feeling as if nothing was accomplished and nothing was actually talked about. It can be tremendously frustrating, and often times true – nothing of any heart was said and no real connecting has taken place. If it had, for good or for bad, something would have gotten done.
In partnerships and alliances, and particularly once you’ve reached the co-creating stage, many meetings take place and some can last as long as two to three full days. These meetings take the innovation results and begin to drill down into roles and responsibilities, investments, time to market and many other critical pieces of the business. But to make the most of these meetings and work through the disorganized mess of innovation and not fall into the typical doldrums of the corporate meeting, you need to be clear on why you’re meeting, what you want to get out of the meeting, and you also need to prepare, while being open for the freshness of the moment and the spontaneity of relating.
Preparation means working both with your team and the partner on what needs to be accomplished. I have found the following checklist useful to prepare for meetings internally:
- Understand where we are
- Review what each partner participant may be thinking, their potential frame of reference and how that frame of reference affects the business – check and inquire during the meeting to determine if it’s true.
- Becoming clear on what we want and what change is needed (if any) from the partner and ourselves in terms of perception, action and/or clarity of goals.
- Prepare key message(s) for each face-to-face meeting that need to be delivered.
- Connect with the mood you want to enact as you relate with the other partners and prepare the story and metaphors that help to deliver the message and enact the change you desire.
- Agree between members of your team on what each person will do in the meeting – introductions, do the check in/check out, review agenda, distribute materials, etc.
- Start all meetings with a check-in and end with a checkout.
- Prepare agendas with key topics in advance but don’t set time frames to keep flexibility.
- Have flip charts and/or white boards in all meeting rooms.
- Never sit across from partners but within and around.
- Place any and all snacks, drinks etc. in the middle of the table if possible.
- And – Don’t forget the chocolate – 70% cocoa minimum!
Leadership Development Practices for Each Internal Participant
Consider for your own team the practices and ways of being that are at the edge of each person’s development and practice those in meetings. For those that are always talking and maybe talking too much, work to be silent, for those that never speak, let yourself be heard.
Let all these interactions become fields of play and places for personal and group improvement and practice. Like any good soccer team, learn to pass the ball, to follow, to direct the conversation and to have a feel for where everything is going. That way overtime you become a conscious team that can have the kind of meetings that move things forward and where everyone walks out with a wow – we finally actually finally connected and got something accomplished at the same time,
To prepare for the meeting externally, I typically send these questions to the partner:
- What key topics would you like us to focus on?
- What concerns, thoughts or perceptions do we need to clarify to continue moving forward?
- Who should be at the meeting from your team and from mine?
- What do each of us need to bring to the meeting?
- What tools are we working on to have ready? (i.e. shared financial model, project plans, etc.)
- What does success look like? What will we have accomplished in the meeting to be successful?
- What key deliverables should we have in place once we’re done?
- What assumptions, ideas, frame of reference do you share about the other actors?
Typically one partner prepares the agenda and both quickly review.
To ensure clean and concise follow up and follow through after the meetings, I like to follow these guidelines:
End of Meeting Learning (Internal Debrief)
- What went well, what was said that was useful, helpful, and where we stumbled.
- Areas of improvement.
- Required next steps or changes to process, delivery of key materials and each of our respective roles.
- What we learned about continued commitment, potential derailers, opportunities, etc.
- What happened upon entering and exiting the meeting – what was said, what was the tone, what was going on and what did it mean?
- What did we walk away with?
External Debrief with Partner and Follow-up
- Debrief typically occurs at the checkout and end of session.
- Send out meeting agreements, pictures of whiteboard and or written poster-boards.
- Arrange follow-up meeting to touch base on shared agreements and action items – within 5 days of the meeting.
- Request feedback on what is going on and where they think the partnership is heading.
As you can see, there are several things at play in preparing and executing successful meetings. You need to balance out the relating (subjective) with the doing (objective). This genuinely means that you’re connecting, communicating and engaging while getting things done. The last and most critical piece is developing feedback loops so you as an alliances team begin to learn, develop and hone in on the best practices to have meetings, create meaningful conversations and engage productively with your partners.