“I love meetings.” (Said no one ever.) But I do love to learn, I like a good plan, and it feels good to accomplish something. While my opening statement implies a note of cynicism, it is actually more of a goal statement. It’s what I want to feel when headed into a meeting, whether it be in-person or virtual.
In full transparency, I’ve led a lot of horrible meetings. And I’ve got an excuse for all of them. Like, spending time planning for a meeting takes away from all the other important things on my plate. Ya-da, ya-da. I’ve also participated in a bunch of meetings I’d rather not have.
Truthfully, all the excuses and negative thoughts I’ve had about meetings are just mindsets, created internally. I suspect I am not alone. Although gathering with others to solve problems, generate ideas, and basically keep things moving requires a commitment of time and effort, it’s a conscious decision to consider meetings “have to” or “get to” items on our calendar.
A few years ago, a colleague gave me some advice. It was incredibly simple, but has made all the difference for me and a lot of people who’ve sat in meetings with me. It basically hinges on looking three ways when planning meeting agendas–inward, outward, and forward.
Inward – By nature, humans are learning creatures. Learning triggers curiosity, stimulates critical thinking, and feels good. Learning is also a personal and internal process that varies from person to person. As a result, the first thing any meeting planner should do is look inward and ask “What is it I (or other participants) want or need to learn?” This could involve engaging in a conversation about something participants are asked to read or watch in advance, or surfacing something new at the meeting itself.
Outward – The second item meeting planners should consider is looking outward. In other words, what will be accomplished, be it a task or decision? Looking outward, or focusing on the intended outcome(s) ensures that time spent meeting is meaningful.
Forward – Looking forward implies planning and next steps. It should be clear to all participants what needs to be done after the meeting and what needs to be accomplished at the next.
The advantage of looking inward, outward, and forward is that it ensures relevance for participants, nurtures engagement, and activates synergistic and collaborative interactions.