By Maj. Christopher ManganaroAugust 22, 2018
We have all heard the saying, "I went to a meeting to discuss a meeting." Meetings can be very useful and a huge waste of time if managed improperly. They are either too long, too short, or do not solve the problem or issue that the meeting was trying to solve in the first place. Leaders at all levels will have the opportunity to conduct meetings of their own and, if they're not careful, could repeat the cycle of doom for the next generation.
Webster defines the word meeting as, "an act or process of coming together." Meetings come in all shapes and sizes and no two are alike. The meeting is the actual act of being together, and not a reason to sit around and talk aimlessly for 60 minutes. Leaders can use the next two options if they need to gather and share knowledge in their organization.
Huddle (5-10 minutes): A huddle is a gathering of people who have a similar understanding of the mission and require a quick update to conduct the next "play." Participants stand in a circle and discuss the day's tasks or key events. In some units I have served in, we called it "stand-up" and the members of the staff would literally stand in the boss's office and give a quick update for the day. I used this technique as both a Battalion Executive Officer and Operations Officer, which cut down drastically on the need to hold a morning staff meeting that could last anywhere from 30-45 minutes. A huddle is clear and concise and allows both the leader and the led to gain shared understanding and move out. Do not be afraid to call a huddle throughout the day or to wrap up any loose ends at the end of the day or in between missions.
Synchronization Brief (60+ minutes): Synchronization is the act of coordinating activities, processes or actions in space and time. These are well-scripted gatherings of people from both within and outside your organization with the sole purpose of ensuring everyone has shared understanding for a particular project/operation. The Combined Arms Rehearsal or Sustainment/MEDEVAC Rehearsal of Concept Drills are examples of synchronization meetings that provide shared understanding on a grand scale. Do not try to have several meetings because you want to avoid the work needed to develop a synchronization brief.
Planning the Meeting
Before you decide to hold a meeting, stop that urge and plan your next steps wisely. I have found that planning a meeting is more difficult than actually leading one.
Below are a few tips that could assist with planning your next meeting:
Choose the location and venue wisely. Not every meeting needs to be in your office or headquarters. Sometimes the change in location will generate new ideas from others in the room. Two key offsite meetings could be:
1) Holding the weekly maintenance meeting in the motorpool to allow you and your leaders to spot check equipment and provide reinforcement to the maintainers keeping the fleet going;
2) Holding the weekly training meeting at a range to execute the S3 vehicles and equipment and put eyes on a new Training Area or conduct a leaders recon at the same time.
Send the read ahead slides/reports a day prior to include the meeting agenda and 7-minute drill. This allows your meeting attendees the time to digest the information and come prepared to speak. Sending them 30 minutes before the meeting does not help anyone, since you are the only one who probably knows the information.
Limit participants to those that will contribute to the meeting. Ask yourself, who do I need in this meeting to help inform others and make a decision? Not every meeting requires leaders from the organization. Maybe you would rather have the subject matter experts, rather than the organizational leader in the room. We all have different priorities, and sometimes a good action officer can provide as much or even more information than a fellow leader would. I once heard a senior leader say, "You are where you sit." He did not believe in other people sitting in a room during a meeting if they had nothing to contribute or discuss. This also limits your group size in order to keep the discussion productive and remain on schedule. For more on managing priorities read, 16 Resources for Preventing Distraction, Maximizing Productivity, and Prioritizing with Purpose.
At this point, you've sent the read ahead slides/reports the day prior, chosen a good location and invited the right attendees. Now you just need to sit down and start talking, wrong! This is where a well-planned meeting can go south in a hurry. Small talk and networking are key to building relationships and must be a priority for leaders. If you are going to meet with new people or invite new members of a unit to your meeting, allow yourself an extra 10-15 minutes PRIOR to the meeting for small talk. Now it is time to get started!
Below is a checklist to execute a successful meeting:
1) Conduct roll call and ensure all the participants are present.
2) Introduce the note taker.
3) Inform the group that the discussion will end 5 minutes prior to the end of the meeting to allow time to cover due outs.
4) Cover the agenda for the meeting.
5) Begin the meeting discussing last meetings due outs.
6) Stop talking. Allow the other members of the group to talk and you ensure the meeting stays on agenda. If you keep talking, then why did you call them to your meeting in the first place?
7) Limit sidebars or contentious issues for a separate meeting.
8) 5 minutes prior to the meeting ending, cover the due outs or open issues that were not resolved.
9) End the meeting on time!
10) If you did not cover all your topics, update the next meeting's agenda and timeframe.
After Action Review
I hope that you were able to remain on agenda, which allowed for good discussion, and ended your meeting on time. If not, do not worry -- it will take practice. You may also consider modifying your agenda, meeting participants and timeline during the planning phase to have a more effective meeting.
Now that the meeting concluded, the work is not finished. Here is where the person you identified as the note taker can begin to develop the meeting summary. I found that a good meeting summary serves two purposes:
1) It trains other members of your team, maybe a junior leader, how to run a meeting effectively and what information is important to retain;
2) It solidifies what was said, so it can be referenced later and prevent a longer meeting if someone tries to bring up a topic that was discussed prior.
Here are a few tips to assist with your After Action Review:
Send the meeting summary the same day as the meeting. Most of us will move on to the next meeting, so being able to reinforce what was discussed without waiting for days is key.
Conduct follow-ups with key participants. You may be at a point where a phone call or face-to-face conversation with 1 or 2 participants of the previous meeting would lead to the decision. Do not drag the other people into your conversation unless it will better enhance the decision.
Schedule the next meeting, if needed.
Let's face it. Meetings are a fact of life and something that we cannot avoid. If the situation requires it, ensure you plan, execute and provide a good AAR to your participants and members of your own team to make the next one even more effective. If not, you will become that leader who says, "Great job with that meeting, let's have a meeting to discuss the next meeting."