When Big Meetings are Effective

Holding Effective MeetingsIf you make organizational leadership a point of pride, you’ve probably thought a lot about how to run and participate in effective meetings – it’s an eternal topic. This post from LinkedIn/Quartz covers some of the same old points but a couple new ones.

Cool Idea: Meeting Dismissals

My favorite thing in this article is this idea:

A Bain colleague recounted recently how a US undersecretary of defense in charge of procurement came to her first meeting with contractors and saw about 60 people in the room. She asked everyone to say who they were and why they were there. Participants rolled their eyes but did as she asked.

After the first two had identified themselves, the undersecretary said, “Thanks for your interest, but we won’t need you here. You can excuse yourself.” Others met a similar fate. By the time she got to the 10th person, others were getting up to leave, knowing they had no real reason to be there. Eventually the group comprised about 12 members—and the productivity of that meeting rose about fivefold.

Making a practice of this might work. Dismissals could embarrass people but could actually be a way to minimize political feelings about who’s invited to meetings. You could make the dismissal process common and non-stigmatized: invite liberally, so that no one feels left out, and then trim each meeting before it gets started. Maybe the dismissals are optional, but encouraged. This way, people don’t have anxiety about what is happening without them, but meetings tend to be smaller and more efficient.

When Big Meetings Work

The article appears to assume that meetings are primarily to make decisions. I’d venture that ad hoc meetings are typically to make decisions. But:

  • Large meetings make sense when you have to break news, set a norm, and help people feel included. Many meetings of this kind are probably too small. The company-wide meeting practices of Facebook and Google are awesome in this respect.
  • Meetings focused on execution are both regular in frequency and better with lots of people. They can also be very fast. I swear by the regular brief meeting with a zillion people on it to make sure that things are done. For the playbook on this, see the (pretty old) book Execution.

This article is part of the email series, The Leader’s Brief. You can subscribe for email updates at www.theleadersbrief.com.

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