Running Effective Meetings

I had an awkward moment at a moderately important board type meeting recently. At 11am (as I had written to everyone beforehand more than once) I said I had to leave. The meeting had run 2 hours which was the agenda time allotted. The Chair asked where I was going? As if to say "isn't this meeting the most important matter in the world?"  I replied "to an event I had committed to several weeks ago, to which I had told you" and promptly left.

 

There are many types of meeting and different types of effectiveness. I now Chair and have chaired several types of these semi-formal to formal decision making and oversight meetings and have some thoughts on making them effective.  They are of a different timbre to creative meetings and confusing the type of meetings I see leads oft times to ineffectivness.

 

Making these meetings efficient and productive takes preperation time. 

 

Ideally the chair needs to work the CEO or other key decision makers in the meeting to ensure the agenda points and clear and prioritised.

 

Once the points to raise, discuss and decide upon are known. The Chair needs to carefully allot or review the alloted time for those agenda points.   This is a crucial skill.  Too little time will mean the meeting will not run well.

 

At this point, you need to decide if there is then too much in the agenda and adjust accordingly.

 

This (1)  time setting (2) priority setting and then (3) agenda adjustment are 3 crucial areas the chair should resolve.

 

Appropriate papers then need to be sent with enough time in advance for people to read (although I will note another a completely different type of meeting which will not use advance papers - this meeting has members read papers all together and make a decision with the same knowledge base).

 

If the meeting members are not reading the papers in advance, you need to tell them and then potentially remove them from the board/commitee if they do not have the time to commit. 

 

Ensuring board preparedness is an item that you should have assessed on a regular basis. As is  self evaluation and skills audit if this is a formal board and meeting structure.

 

At the meeting, you need to be deadly efficient at keeping the time alloted correct yet allowing enough debate to flow.   This is where member prep and time allowance come together.  Members unprepared can take time up with unnecessary clarifications.

 

Still in your quest for effectiveness you must not abandon intriguing points and useful ideas.  However, when these interesting points arise but not directly relevant to the topic you need to capture them and park them.

 

If seen this called a nugget harvesting or the parking lot system. 

 

Note the idea nugget. State you are closing this nugget topic but noting it down to be followed up appropriately.  Putting it in the parking lot.

 

If a decision is needed to be made.  The decision maker needs to make it.  It might not be the chair but you have to make sure the decision is made.

 

There may be a case for delaying the decision due to a lack of information.  However in a well run meeting all the appropriate papers should been prepared.

 

You will never have 100 percent of the information.  Making decisions under uncertainty will be a mark of the quality of your decision maker.   Having all the information prepared will be a mark of the strength of your team and also the strength of your oversight.

 

Keeping to time. Ensuring decisions are made. Action points are noted.  Good ideas go into the parking lot for follow up.

 

Allowing members to leave on time is another mark of an effective meeting.

 

The chairs job is not finished here. The chair should follow up effectively on parking lot ideas, also with the CEO or specific board members or presenters on any points or decisions that need to be made.

 

Putting it all together you have:

-Effective preparedness

-Time Management

-Make decisions

-Save good ideas

-Follow up


More thoughts: My Financial Times opinion article on long-term investing and how to engage with companies.

How to live a life, well lived. Thoughts from a dying man. On play and playing games.

If you'd like to feel inspired by commencement addresses and life lessons try:  Neil Gaiman on making wonderful, fabulous, brilliant mistakes; or Nassim Taleb's commencement address; or JK Rowling on the benefits of failure.  Or Charlie Munger on always inverting;  Sheryl Sandberg on grief, resilience and gratitude.

A provoking read on how to raise a feminist child.

Cross fertilise. Read about the autistic mind here.

Will Smith on Failure. Fail Often. Fail Forward.

Fail Forward. Fail Often.  "Failure is a massive part of being able to be successful". 

Dalio-principles2-failure.png

Dalio's views on mistakes sound very much like Neil Gaiman's view on mistakes, one written by a story teller (I take a look at Gaiman's commencement address extolling mistakes in an earlier post) and the other written by an "investor-philosopher".

Will Smith probably has a larger following than Ray though...

 


If you'd like to feel inspired by commencement addresses and life lessons try:  Neil Gaiman on making wonderful, fabulous, brilliant mistakes; or Nassim Taleb's commencement address; or JK Rowling on the benefits of failure.  Or Charlie Munger on always inverting;  Sheryl Sandberg on grief, resilience and gratitude or investor Ray Dalio  on Principles.

Cross fertilise. Read about the autistic mind here.

More thoughts:  My Financial Times opinion article on the importance of long-term questions to management teams and Environment, Social and Governance capital.

How to live a life, well lived. Thoughts from a dying man.

Whistleblowing

“I once read a statement by Ed Snowden that there are things worth dying for. And I read the same thing by Manning, who said she was ready to go to prison or even face a death sentence for what she was doing. And I read those comments and I thought: that is what I felt. That is right. It is worth it. Is it worth someone’s freedom or life to avert a war with North Korea? I would say unhesitatingly: “Yes, of course.” Was it worth Ed Snowden spending his life in exile to do what he did? Was it worth it for Manning, spending seven and a half years in prison? Yes, I think so. And I think they think so. And I think they are right.”

Daniel Ellsberg (who leaked the Pentagon papers, a top-secret study of US govt decision making on the Vietnam War) said that in conversation with Edward Snowden.

Read some of the transcript in the guardian here.

I don't think I have whatever it takes to do what Snowden and Ellsberg did, although I guess with some of these matters, you don't know how you react until the choice is in front of you.

 


If you'd like to feel inspired by commencement addresses and life lessons try:  Neil Gaiman on making wonderful, fabulous, brilliant mistakes; or Nassim Taleb's commencement address; or JK Rowling on the benefits of failure.  Or Charlie Munger on always inverting.  Or Ray Dalio on Principles.

Read about my questions to a dying man, on how to live a life well lived.

Or, a thought about the narrative of Bitcoin.

5 lessons Autism has Taught Me

Some thoughts on what we can learn from autism, ASD, written in the self-help leadership style.

Everybody is somebody's weirdo

What unites humanity is vast and wonderful.

In the tapestry that is being human, you will always find someone who will seem odd to you. Likewise, you will always be peculiar to someone else. That is no reason for fear or hatred.

In finding out how oddball you are to some people, you can grow a wider appreciation of your own biases.

We all have them. We are all human.

Patience is genius

A quick decision particularly over questions of limited materiality (a Jeff Besos type 2 decision) is efficient. However, I have found I have won out in many situations by exhibiting patience. More patience than my competitors. I can out-wait most. Some psychologist have called this "grit". Economists talk about taking time horizon risk. I call it what you learn by losing going toe to toe with an autist.   

Patience is a winning strategy

"Because everyone else does it" - is never a great reason

Autists reveal what are social norms because they often flout them (I won't go in to theories of why, just the empirical observation that they do). This in turn reveals that much more of the world is built upon social norms than I had thought.

We do things because other do things. Lemmings. Herd mentality. All well documented. Yet it goes deeper to matters you would not question until an autist throws it, into stark relief.

Why do boys wear blue and girls pink? They did not 80 years a go. It's a social norm created by marketeers. Why do we shake hands ? (In fact, in many cultures, we do not). Why don't we speak truth to power ? Most autists I observe do not lie. If a person is fat, why not say they are fat ? Is it more harmful to turn from the truth (of course, white lies have their place in typical society, but what effect does that have?) Question if something is right, do not rely on the fact that everyone else does it.

Follow your interests - you may discover the extraordinary

Autists often obsess. People on the autistic spectrum also seem to create break throughs or invent non-standard thinking more regularly than typicals. Gladwell has written about the 10,000 hours plus it takes to reach a 'genius' level.

You are unlikely to have a novel breakthrough just ploughing the same furrow. Neither will you master anything unless you keep at, perhaps long after others have fallen by the way side (cf. Patience as a strategy).

Autists will sail steadfastly obsessively on beyond where I thought I could tread. That inspires me to more, even if I have no comprehension of what that obsession might be. Prime numbers, Disney cartoons, the cracks in the street, the music in the air, train couplers....

Sure, if you like, go fail conventionally.

That is not the way of the autist.

How people react to autism/difference reveals the character of their humanity

Post an interview, some CEOs and managers will ask how the candidate treated the support staff along the way to the interview. I've heard many repeat the adage of how someone treats a waiter or receptionist reveals a true character.

This is heightened when facing difference. While we can be trained to be polite to waiters and receptionists, there's a routine we can follow. Throw in unexpected difference, an autist, a different culture, a deaf person, a conflict...

Grace under pressure

We can all learn that, and be better people for it.