Meetings that Matter

As each school year ends, we inevitably face numerous necessary meetings to wrap up unfinished business and plan for the year ahead. With this in mind, we want to share with you some sage advice from ECATD faculty member Curt Lieneck, Director of Information Technology at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.

If you join us in Chicago later this month for our collaborative workshop with ISACS, “Cyber Security in Independent Schools,” July 13-14, you will have a chance to meet Curt, who is one of the participants. You can still sign up for the workshop here.  Also, you can RSVP here to join Curt and the ATLIS gang as we meet up and wind down at a soon-to-be disclosed location near the ADVIS offices at 5:30 pm on Thursday. -- SD

A recent thread on the venerable ISED-L listserv caught my attention. One of our independent school colleagues asked for advice about making meetings more effective.

I have strong feelings about meetings, as I bet many of us do. Lord knows, we all sit in a lot of them. So why are so many of them so lame? How do we get from “I have to go to a meeting” to “I get to go to a meeting?”

It’s not like we don’t know what it takes to have an effective meeting. There are lots of straightforward ways to make a bad meeting better. We could all probably put on our Captain Obvious superhero costume and list them:

  • Be clear on the meeting’s purpose.

  • Arrive on time.

  • End on time.

  • Stick to the issue at hand.

  • All present give the meeting their undivided attention and participate actively.

  • Make actual decisions and clear plans, and detail the steps to implement them.

  • And all those other things you already know.But let’s pretend for a moment that we didn’t really know how to make meetings better. 

Captain ObviousGood news! There is a whole industry out there ready and waiting to help us, and some of them are really helpful.

Would you like to be a “meeting architect?” Would you like to avoid meeting fatalities? (Disclaimer: I like this approach a lot and use some of its principles in running meetings.) Can’t make up your mind? Here is the a really good list of books about running better meetings.

So dive in. Find some resources. Ask around, as our colleague did on his recent post (he got a lot of good responses, by the way).

But this is where things get sticky, and here’s why: it may not matter one least little bit what wonderful strategy you devise to run a better meeting.

Why? A good meeting needs a strong cultural foundation that supports an effective meeting strategy. A weak foundation undermines a good meeting every time. As organizational guru Peter Drucker has said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast. ” Two preconditions must be met before any particular meeting strategy can be optimally effective, and they are both cultural.

The first is discipline. If people around the meeting table are not disciplined in setting and achieving goals when they are not at the meeting table, it’s unlikely that they will suddenly become disciplined during the meeting time.

It may not always be their fault that they can’t bring a necessary level of discipline to their work (and thus to meetings); in organizations of all kinds, priorities may not be clear, decision-making protocols may be murky, or other variables might affect their ability to function at peak effectiveness. We can try to build better habits around making meetings work, and sharing resources we and others have found helpful is a great way to begin. But it won’t be enough if you are swimming upstream on the discipline issue.

The second is candor. When we have just endured a meeting that left us puzzled, frustrated, or just plain scratching our heads, it makes sense that we would make an effort to involve others at the meeting, including and especially the meeting leader, to brainstorm ways to improve meeting quality. But that’s not always easy to do. Sometimes, the power dynamics of a given organization may make it difficult to be candid. A low trust environment also inhibits candid conversations. Heavily siloed environments within an organization may tilt things in a territorial direction.  Sometimes, we’re just weary and it’s easier to show up at the darn meeting than risk an uncomfortable (albeit necessary) conversation.

Regardless of the inhibitor, any circumstance that chokes the flow of constructive criticism, authentic reflection, and spirited debate will lay waste to whatever meeting strategy you fancy. Those seeking success in creating better meeting outcomes need to look past meeting structures to the cultural bedrock beneath them.

Image Credit: 

Gareth Jones, “Captain Obvious,” Flickr, 5 April 2018 (CC)

Share this post:

Comments on "Meetings that Matter"

Comments 0-5 of 0

Please login to comment