Making Meetings Magic

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Nick Mackeson-Smith
Nick Mackeson-Smith
Chief Curiosity Officer, Founder and Director
May 6, 2021

Meetings can be better

Oh, meetings! I’ve had countless conversations in my career, and can’t remember a single instance where I’ve heard someone say “I just adore spending my time in meetings - they are so valuable to me and my organisation”.

I’ve certainly never said it.

Yet we all have meetings. Lots of them. All the time. Sometimes we meet about important stuff that requires a conversation, but invariably we also find ourselves seemingly trapped in a never-ending cycle of meeting after meeting to talk about stuff and not actually having much time left to do our actual work. I’ve even been at a meeting where people have discussed what needs to be addressed at an upcoming meeting. A meeting about a meeting?!

People have taken out their unending frustration with meetings and written entire books about the subject - some are well worth a read - others not so much, and your time would likely be better invested in having a serious think about the value of your time and then declining meetings that you just don’t need to be at.

In my early years in learning and development I remember trotting out the VHS tapes from Videoarts - a video training company - featuring esteemed comedians like John Cleese who acted out farcical situations to illustrate just how bonkers some of our meetings could be. This one now thankfully safely stored in the infinite archives of the internet so we can all marvel at how little we’ve changed things since this video was made in 1976!!

We’re decades on, yet many of us still grapple with meetings.

Forget the books. Forget the self help guides. Just keep it simple.

We need two things:

  1. Better meetings
  2. Asynchronous chat

Better meetings

Really, when it all boils down to it, a meeting should be an opportunity for people to solve things, celebrate things or have a deep discussion to develop a shared understanding of or alignment on something. If it isn’t one of those things, then really you should be asking yourself if a meeting is even needed. Chances are, it isn’t.  Send an email. Stick it in chat. Send an SMS. Just go and have an actual conversation with someone or pick up the phone!!

If you really MUST have a meeting, then try structuring it into three parts:


Need to know.

This is all about sharing information. What do we all need to know to ensure that we can have a productive conversation. Context, desired outcomes, clarity about the opportunity or problem that’s being solved. Clarity on what perspective each attendee is able and expected to bring. If it’s a regularly occurring meeting (like a team meeting) then it can be critical updates since the last time the group of people connected. Usually this is about the work that needs to get done.

Check this.

This is about celebrating wins, success, learnings, failures, media coverage, cool stuff - anything that's worth highlighting or emphasising. Usually this is about the people who get the work done.

Help me.

This is where people can ask questions to clarify, to solve problems, to discuss issues at length, and crucially to discuss and decide on next steps. Usually this is about people asking others in the team for help or ideas on how to get the work done.

. . .

That’s it. If we keep it simple, we can keep it short. If we keep it short we can keep it efficient. If we can keep it efficient, then we free up time to do other things.

Asynchronous chat

You see, conversations don’t happen in neat tidy time boxes. Conversations are fluid and dynamic, and ever evolving. Acknowledging that much of the chat that we have doesn’t NEED to happen in a meeting is really really important. Asynchronous just means not at the same time, so people can connect and engage and respond at a time that suits them best, and within the flow of their normal daily activities. Or on the bus. On on the sofa. Any time, anywhere.

If COVID-19 has brought us one thing, it’s the widespread usage of tools like Slack and MS Teams to communicate within teams outside of meetings - and within meetings. Enabling one place where people can keep the conversation moving means that there is less reliance on getting people together to cover the basics. Meetings can be laser-focused, super-targeted, and people can arrive with a perspective, an opinion, and all the information they need to engage in a productive dialogue and leave with some sweet-as commitments to action. All of the conversation is fully searchable too - and files and documents can be kept in one place for everyone to see.

If you aren’t having asynchronous conversations within your teams around each of your meetings, then now is the time to get set up, to get active, and to get sharing. It’s also an epic way to enable people to work remotely, from client site, on the road, or wherever - without feeling as though they’ve missed out on things that are important.

Photo by Redd F on Unsplash

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May 6, 2021
May 6, 2021

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