Terrible, Horrible Informational Meetings, And Why You Should Stop Them

Want to make me cringe and grimace? Ask me to attend an “informational” meeting. These are those anti-productivity meetings that invite everyone to talk, without any particular purpose! They invoke the worst of all Treadmill Verbs™: inform. Inform, like all Treadmill Verbs™, has no destination. You can inform forever. There is no way to know when you are done!

During informational meetings, people use their time to share recent activities, justify their paychecks, whine or try to impress others.  If you quizzed participants afterwards, they would identify very few concrete outcomes and there would be just about zero agreement on any of those identified outcomes.  Informational meetings are incredible time wasters. They exist out of habit and fear. So here is my admonition to you: Stop informing! Stop issuing open invitations to talk. If you want to inform, write an email.

That doesn’t mean you should cancel your meetings. What it means is that you and every participant need greater clarity of purpose. Speak the language of tangible outcomes – specific plans, decisions, and problems. What do you need to move your plans, decisions, and problems forward?

Plans represent tangible outcomes because they are comprised of concrete components that pave the road to tangible results. Do you need input for your plans? Things like action items, resources, or confirmation that you have all the major bases covered? Do you need approval to implement? Do you need help identifying risks? Pursue answers to specific questions and you will make tangible progress.

Decisions represent the second form of tangible progress. What decisions need to be made? What input is needed? Do you need to firm up objectives? Brainstorm alternatives? Identify risks? Who needs to be involved to ensure adequate and accurate input? Who needs to be involved to ensure acceptance of the decision? Pursue answers to specific questions and you can make real progress.

There is one more form of tangible progress: a problem resolution. If you are confronting a problem, do you need to know more about where and when the problem exists? Do you need to identify the most likely cause? Brainstorm possible methods for solutions? Get specific and pursue answers by asking specific questions. That is the secret to discernible progress.

Use the questions above to determine what you really need to accomplish. Once you know specifically what you need, ask for it. Ask specific questions that will produce concrete responses that constitute real progress. Send background information ahead of time and expect real answers that constitute real progress. There is no substitute for knowing what must be different when you are done!

By Ann Latham; June 20, 2017