Meeting is such sweet sorrow

Is there another activity that occupies so much of our time which gives us as much grief as the meeting?

Let’s try some adjectives: frustrating, time-consuming, unproductive.

Let’s look at the obvious weaknesses of so many of the meetings we attend: too many of them every day / every week, too many people around the table, too many items on the agenda, too adversarial, too inconclusive, too badly run.

Once you start struggling with back to back meetings, you know it’s time to do it differently. No-one works well when half their brain is spinning from the meeting before, and the other half is focusing on the one to follow. And when the arguing round the table outweighs the agreeing, you are right to question the wisdom of meeting the way we do.

So why don’t we, our colleagues or our companies do anything to make these meetings better? Largely, I believe, because individual meeting-goers feel powerless to change the system. And also because companies and meeting organisers don’t know how to innovate or reinvent the meeting.

That is exactly why having spent more than a quarter of a century in meetings with my AAI hat on, I have dedicated a great deal of the last six months to working on the Mote – the first revolution in meeting practice since the Levellers and the Putney Debates in 1647.

You see we want to meet. And we need to meet. People come together all the time. Some encounters are accidental, eg on a train, in a bus, on the tube, on a flight, shopping, in the street. Others are deliberate and planned, as when we socialise. Equally not all human encounters are meetings.

What can we learn from unstructured and chance encounters that will inform business meetings? For me the most significant truth is that we humans are particularly good at one-to-ones. The dynamic duo is the most potent and most effective combination. That’s why lunch works so well. Two people nearly always work well together because it is natural to deploy altruism, empathy and mutual interest.

We think before we speak.

We take the other’s point of view, sensibilities and capabilities into account. Meetings with just two people in the room can go faster and more energetically than a room full of the cleverest people in the building. That’s the principle of Mote.

Start lean. Add experts and specialists as you need them. Stand them down when you don’t. And finish lean with the decision in sight, and realisation of the project at hand.

A meeting conducted in the Mote style will work. It will be productive. It will be enjoyable. It will make meeting worthwhile.

Next year MOTE: The Super Meeting will be available to show you how. But meanwhile, break the stranglehold of big frustrating meetings. Dare to go for big decisions in small meetings. Let everyone enjoy the opportunity gain of less time in the meeting room, and more time to think and do proper work!