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Tribute to Ger McDonnell|Tribute to David Hiddleston | When Good Guides Turn Bad | Why I Climb
I spend my life in meetings. Most people in business these days seem to. Why? Is this the best method of communication? Are there better ways? Are there better ways to run a meeting? Yes, yes and yes.

He started the meeting with a long rambling diatribe that concluded with everyone reading their email or doodling on scraps of paper. No one had any idea if they had to follow up or change something. It was another wasted meeting and more wasted time.

We have all been there. The invite comes along with an agenda. The agenda items are vague at best. Only 10% of the agenda directly impacts you or your team. Yet this goes on week after week after week. There has got to be a better way.

The best meetings are ones where everyone is involved. The discussion involves everyone or the leader brings everyone into the conversation. There is a conclusion or at least clear next steps with owners and dates. My, this seems so simple so what is going on?

Consultants have made millions on trying to teach Managers how to run an effective meeting. But the same behavior continues. Part of this is the ego of Managers in charge. The bad ones are reluctant to delegate. The worst ones are so insecure that they cannot allow anyone else to contribute for fear of losing power. And the incompetent ones are … just incompetent.

On a climb, meetings are short and to the point. The Leader is clear and the agenda is obvious: Who, what , when where and how - climbers, objective, departure time, route and equipment. Everyone listens, everyone participates because after all a missed detail could cost you the climb or your life.

Ron brought up the issue. Morris added his view and then Sue asked a probing question that made everyone think. Dave tried to answer the question but only sparked more questions and then magic happened.

Ideas were built upon ideas. People finished other's sentences. New thoughts generated even better ones. The collective energy built at a swift pace. No one thought about the impact of a comment. No one considered what anyone else thought. Everyone spoke quickly. Everyone was involved. The problem was solved with a solution no one ever envisioned.

How did this happen? And how can it happen every time?

First, the group dynamics have to work. There has to be trust. There has to be laughter. It helps if everyone likes or at a minimum respects one another. Then the issue has to be positioned properly. Do the attendees have any control over the issue? Do they have influence? What has been tried before? What actions are simply not possible? Which ideas are very, very hard but not impossible? Is everyone safe to voice their views, emotional, irrational or great?

Next, define the outcome. Idea generation? Clear resolution or sometimes, a simple venting session? Yes, a discussion with no outcome can be extremely valuable to let frustration out and to see if there is a common view of a tough problem. Driving to a solid conclusion all the time can be a mistake! Never driving to any conclusion is worse.

Also, consider how many people are invited. More than seven and you will have stragglers, less than five and you lack diversity. If a meeting has more than 15 then it is a seminar and should be used for information sharing and not decisions. Consider well written communication where people can read at their convenience not yours. Finally make sure a meeting is needed at all. Often meetings are habit and are not necessary.

Face to face meetings are the most expensive. Today, many meetings are held over the telephone or the Internet. The challenges explode with the lack of eye contact. I believe studies have shown that over 80% of communication is non-verbal. So how to make these remote meetings work?

First, same ground rules as above: clear agenda, defined results, and positive dynamics. Second keep the meeting short. Have fewer shorter meetings to avoid wandering attention spans. As the moderator or leader you must keep everyone involved thus asking for comments by name. This keeps everyone alert and participating.

So, how do you know when a meeting was a success? I know for sure it is not when everyone says "… that was a good meeting…" Kind, but often people just being polite. The only true measure is the metric of progress.

Are you debating the same issue over and over? Do some members participate sporadically? Do the key individuals who did not attend and have a need to know stay well informed? Is your business succeeding as fast as it could? On a climb, did everyone arrive safely and about on schedule?

Time is money but wasting time in poorly run meetings is an insult to everyone involved. Take the time to plan the time and run the time according to the plan … everyone will thank you!