Running a Meeting

One thing I can’t stand is meetings where people have no sense of purpose. Today we had a group meeting for the final project for one of my classes. No one was really going anywhere with it. We discussed a few ways we could split the assignment up.

So I did something that worked even better than I expected. I took a copy of the project description and suggested that we go through each element, outline possible ideas, but with a twist: after one minute of discussion on each element, we’d have to move on to the next one.

As always happens, we’d brainstorm an idea and someone would try (perhaps inadvertently) to derail the process. Someone thought we might want to consider handling one of the events we were discussion differently. So I put his way down, too. The two somewhat contradicted each other, but they’re both on the list. Later on, someone suggested that we needed to look more into an issue before proceeding. I agreed. So I put, “Research this!!” on the list and kept moving.

Not ten minutes later, we had an outline of the whole project. Very rough, mind you. But I’m pleased, because in the twenty minutes before that, we’d essentially each sat around staring into our computers, making a halfhearted attempt to think of how to split up the project. Now we had an outline of the whole thing.

What’s most awesome, though, is that this way of thinking ended up being contagious. We got through the outline, and it was time to split the assignment up. And this time, instead of a theoretical discussion about all the possibly ways we could divvy up the work, someone got up and put a list of the sections on the board, and we rapid-fire split them up. No discussion of, “Well, I think those two sections might go well together given the current alignment of the planets…” He just took two sections and assigned them to someone.

I don’t profess to be the best meeting-runner of all time, but why can’t more people run meetings this way? A meeting should be a place where people come together to share ideas before going their separate ways to work on individual sections. So focus on the parts that affect everyone, and leave the individuals to handle the mundane details.

And this is what I think is so neat about management. You’d expect a management major to be a heavy-handed leader. But the secret is to be an invisible catalyst helping things run smoothly. Done right, you needn’t even be recognized as a leader.

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