Modern Mentor

How to have meetings that shouldn’t have been emails

Episode Summary

Oh, man. Poor meetings. How have they come to be so evil?

Episode Notes

If your team is struggling to get things done because no one is willing to lead the hard conversations, then you might just need a stinky fish. Learn how to use this simple, fun tool to spark the very conversation your team just needs to have.

Modern Mentor is hosted by Rachel Cooke. A transcript is available at Simplecast.

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Episode Transcription

Hey, it’s Rachel Cooke, your Modern Mentor. I’m the founder of Lead Above Noise—a firm specializing in helping teams and organizations create better working experiences that deliver better results.

And apparently these days, one of the biggest pain points in people’s working experiences? The feeling of drowning under meetings.

Oh, man. Poor meetings. How have they come to be so evil?

I’m seeing all over LinkedIn headlines about companies just shutting them on down. All done, no more. The insinuation being—look at us. Look at how much we value productivity and impact. And meetings are clearly the opposite of both.

These posts garner lots of attention—likes and hearts galore. And I get it—shutting down meetings is a splashy move. Attention is warranted.

But also. Is the problem that we’re having meetings? Or is the problem that we’re having unproductive meetings? For me, for sure, it’s the latter.

Meetings—well designed and well run—serve a purpose. And the issue is that we’ve gotten lazy. We aren’t being discerning—in the what, when, why, how, and who. We’re just putting them on calendars, massive invite lists and all.

And people are drained and exhausted and wondering when to get the actual work done.

But here’s the thing. A good meeting is one that actually furthers the work. It moves the right group of people to make a critical decision. Or define their means of collaborating. Or solve a problem. Or generate possibilities.

That whole “this meeting should have been an email” thing is real. If the purpose of your meeting is to disseminate information, to provide an update or share details? Then yes, it should be an email.

Let’s talk about when to call a meeting, how to run it well, and whom to invite. To make these worth the investment of your time. And to avoid crushing yet another soul to dust.

When to call a meeting

Got any bad habits? I do. Like… when I end up with a surprise few moments of downtime, I automatically crack open the Gram. I don’t think about it, I don’t decide. My fingers and eyes just end up there. And it’s so darn satisfying.

Honestly, it’s a quick hit of dopamine, it’s easy, and it requires no thought. Even in the moment, I know there’s a better choice. But ugh—I actually have to think to find it. And isn’t social media just so much easier?

In some ways, this same logic applies to meetings. I know zero people who strive to overwhelm their colleagues with meetings. But the truth is, it’s become our default. A bad habit.

Is there a big organizational announcement? An update to a project timeline? A process or policy revision? Call a meeting!

Except, don’t call a meeting. Write the email.

Look—a meeting should be called, in my opinion, when:

o   A critical decision needs to be made, and you need to explore and discuss options.

o   A highly sensitive situation has arisen and you need to brainstorm ways to address it.

o   A problem has arisen and you need several subject matter experts to discuss possible solutions or next steps.

o   A collaborative effort is feeling not so collaborative and you need to redefine roles and responsibilities.

There are plenty of other circumstances you could add to the list. But what these all have in common is the need for live dialogue—for debate, problem resolution, decision-making.

If something can be communicated in writing, then write it down. And let people schedule a meeting with you if they have questions.

How to run a meeting

For me, a well-run meeting begins before the meeting. To run a meeting well, there are some key things to communicate to participants ahead of time. Some of my favorites include:

o   Meeting objectives. Like—what are you looking to achieve or solve or explore? Letting people know this ahead of time allows them to generate their ideas and questions in advance, moving you more quickly into the meat of the discussion.

o   Roles. What are you looking for each person to do during the meeting? If you need someone to make a decision, they may want to do some research ahead of time. If you need someone to contribute ideas or expertise to a particular situation, let them do some brainstorming in advance.

o   Norms. Like, what should people be ready for? Will this meeting be heavier on talking or listening? On exploring or deciding? Do you want people coming with polished ideas, or just an appetite for some organized chaos? Get people in the right mindset for the conversation you’re looking to have.

o   Location. As in—is this in-person, remote, or hybrid? And if it’s hybrid, consider having everyone dialing into whichever platform so the experience is fairly universal.

When you start with solid prep, and everyone knows what they’re there to do, you’re set up for a better conversation.

During the meeting, here are a few things to keep in mind.

o   Keep people on task. Meetings feel miserable when they’re missing purpose. So if people are meandering, capture their thoughts on a parking lot for later, and remind them what you’re there to achieve.

o   Manage personalities. As the meeting organizer, be sure you’re hearing from everyone. Don’t be shy in saying “Katie, we haven’t heard from you yet—anything you’d like to add here?”

o   Capture key next steps, owners, and timelines. Make sure you’re able to offer a shared understanding of where the meeting landed and what comes next.

o   Ask for commitment—not agreement. Striving for consensus on every issue can be draining for the team. Because we won’t all always agree. And we don’t need to agree. We need to feel free to express an opinion and we all deserve to feel heard and considered. But when a decision is made, it’s critical that everyone commit to it. This means decisions made in the room are honored. And there can be no secret meetings after the meeting.

Who to invite

One problem with meetings today isn’t that there are too many meetings, but too many of the wrong people are invited to—and feel obligated to attend—meetings.

Priya Parker, author of The Art of Gathering, talks about this concept she called “generous exclusion.” Which I love.

In essence, she says that we tend to be overinclusive when it comes to meetings—for fear of someone feeling left out or undervalued or uninformed. But we need to flip this script.

Rather than defaulting to include, we should ask ourselves whose presence we need—functionally—and only invite them with a commitment to update and inform everyone else.

We should be inviting those who…

o   Have the authority to make the decision.

o   Have the subject matter expertise to define the path forward.

o   Have experienced a similar challenge and can offer useful insight.

o   Will have to own or implement the decision and therefore should inform the direction we take.

We should be generously excluding those who…

o   Just need to know the plan or outcome (we can let them know later).

o   Have a colleague in the room who can add the requisite value (don’t duplicate!).

o   Are frankly overwhelmed and could be doing something more impactful with that time.

So, none of this is hard and fast. If meetings aren’t overwhelming you—you’re all good as you are—then keep on keeping on.

But if your team or organization is struggling to keep its head above water, then I hope something in here has given you a path to finding just a bit of breathing space.

Join me next week for another great episode. Until then, visit my website at if your organization is looking to dial up its Employee Experience or deliver some leadership development that activates change. You can follow Modern Mentor on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Find and follow me on LinkedIn. Thanks so much for listening and have a successful week.