Al Pittampalli feels—and it would be to argue—that few of us actually benefit from meetings. Pittampalli suggests our current meeting culture changes how we focus, what we focus on, and most importantly, what decisions we make. Because meetings are the way we make change, we need meetings to ensure we make intelligent decisions. Luckily, Pittampalli is here to tell us how to do just that.
The Risk of Tradition
Pittampalli suggests that traditional meetings generate two major risks to our businesses: They create a culture of compromise and they kill our sense of urgency.
Take Yahoo! in 2006 for example, Brad Garlinghouse, VP of Communications at the time spoke out about this same dilemma. Essentially, he said that Yahoo! was not taking decision action solving problems. In fact, they were even sending signals to partners and employees that they even understood their problems. He said that Yahoo!'s course and speed simply couldn’t create the fundamental change needed. Yahoo!’s action could be summed up in the simple words: all talk and no action.
After this we saw the birth of web 2.0 and the rise of Google, Twitter, Facebook and many others that went on to overtake Yahoo!. Simply put, Yahoo! had adopted a culture of failed meetings. Those meetings killed action and, most of all, created a culture of compromise.
Change the Game
The broken system of meetings allows us to pass off responsibility too easily. Great decision making involves risk and risk scares people: it's natural for great ideas to get attacked or worse—ignored.
When a revolutionary idea is brought into our meetings, no one takes ownership. The bystander effect takes over. The committee adopts the decision, the idea gets watered down, the corners are cut off, and the result is a safe decision, creating little change and little hope for a better future.
What really moves our vision forward is real work. Work that involves action, struggle, and effort. It's that output that puts us closer to winning. Efficient systems should be organized around the output that wants to be optimized. But with so many meetings called, it's as if our work is organized around our meetings instead.
Let’s have a Modern Meeting
This is the key from Pittampalli. The Modern Meeting only exists for one reason: to support decisions. Decisions have always been what moves us to act. We must structure the Modern Meeting so that bold decisions happen often and quickly, and those decisions are converted into movement
1. The Modern Meeting supports a decision that has already been made.
We should gather only as much input and advice from others as is necessary to make our decision. Additionally, remember that these meetings aren’t called to discuss, they’re called to make a decision.
2. The Modern Meeting moves fast and ends on schedule.
Traditional meetings seem to go on forever. With too much time, even the most unshakable decision will be reconsidered. Keep a meeting as brief as possible and set a firm end time.
3. The Modern Meeting limits the number of attendees.
When we try to reach an agreement in our meetings, the number of actual agreements that need to take place rises exponentially as more people are added to the group. In the modern meeting we invite only the people who are absolutely necessary for resolving the decision that has been presented.
4. The Modern Meeting rejects the unprepared.
Preparation starts with the meeting leader. They must create an agenda and a set of background materials. Preparing an agenda involves thinking through what’s going to happen at the meeting. Specifically, what the objectives are, who should be invited, what they should bring, and how long the meeting will last. The agenda should clearly state the problem, the alternatives and the decision.
Before you arrange another meeting ask yourself the following questions:
Can I make this decision myself?
If a group is necessary, how and when should I involve this group?
Does the opinion of someone else matter or are the facts sufficient?
Can I do this with a conversation instead of a meeting?
How much time should this decision take?
What should the next step be?