Posts in meetings
4 Communications Tips from House of Cards

House of Cards is in its third season, offered exclusively via Netflix.  The show is released all at once, instead of one week at a time.  If you are into "binge-watching" tv shows, this one is worth your time.

I once watched 26 episodes (the first two seasons) in a 7 day span.  Don't ask my how I pulled that off.  Just don't.

House of Cards features Francis Underwood, the congressman turned president who will stop at nothing to achieve power and control. He's ruthless, a liar and a cheat.  Unfortunately, so are most of the other characters in House of Cards.

Why then is it so much fun to watch?  The acting is fantastic (Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, his screen wife), the plotlines are intertwined and the subtle links to contemporary global affairs are all worth their salt. 

So what, if anything, can we glean from House of Cards?  I suggest four tips for you and your organization:

  1. Keep meetings short, very short. When you are finished, stand up and leave.  It will feel awkward at first but it works.  Underwood is famous at very brief meetings, often less than 5 minutes.  
  2. Go with your gut.  Trust people who you know will have your back.  
  3. Cut the small talk or don't depending on the situation. Underwood is a ninja when it comes to making strategic small talk.  At other times, he just cuts right to the chase.  
  4. Be creative.  When you are trying to persuade someone of your point of view, remember that you may have to appeal to what's important to them.  Be creative as to how your communicate and "sell" your message. 

Even if you don't subscribe to Netflix, you can try it out for a free trial during which you can catch an episode (or 26) of House of Cards.  Note that it's not a PG show and you'll want to keep the kids away from it.  Still, if you're an adult and are looking for must-watch TV, House of Cards fits the bill.  

Imagine Your Next Meeting Being ... Great!

Think of the worst meeting you attended in the past month.  If you're like me, you can quickly recall a 30-60 minute period of time called a "meeting" that was less than stellar.  It might have started late or lacked an agenda.  It might have had too many or too few attendees.  

Sadly, these happen all the time.  Meetings... can't live with them and can't live without them.

But what if they could be different?  What if your next meeting was a gem?  With a little bit of work, it can be possible. 

I was a guest this past week on Principal Center Radio with Justin Baeder.  He's a genius when it comes to thinking through traditional problems in a creative way.  We talked about effectiveness and efficiency and it struck me- maybe we need a new set of "rules" for meetings.  

So here goes:

  1. Don't call a meeting unless you have to.
  2. Begin on time, even if it means that someone will walk in late.
  3. Give folks permission to end early.  
  4. One hour should do it.  A half an hour is even better.
  5. Take notes so that you can follow up.
  6. Meet so as to decide rather than inform.
  7. When you're finished, stand up and leave.  

You might be asking yourself, "I'm not the one running the meeting but I am the attendee.  What can I do to change how meetings go?"  Great question!  It's easy for a boss or manager to put these seven rules into practice but not as easy for an attendee.  My invitation to attendees would be to challenge the person running the meeting with the seven rules above.  You can ask in advance for an agenda.  You can ask when the meeting will end without being a nudge.

Your next meeting doesn't have to be terrible.  It really doesn't.  

Why not give the seven 'rules' a try and watch the difference they make in your next meeting?

*Photo courtesy of FDP

The Case for Offsite Meetings
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We sat around the table and reflected on five years of offsite meetings.  "How many has it been?  Ten?  Twelve?"  Amazingly, we had been doing offsite meetings for five years and meeting offsite at least twice a year.  The people have changed but the process was in tact.

I learned this from Fr. Michael Martin, OFM Conv. who took his team years ago to local colleges, country clubs and meeting locations. He was, and I'm sure still is, a genius of executive team building.   

 Why go offsite?  Simply put, getting your team out of the office (or off campus) decreases distractions and promotes higher level thinking.  You'll also build community within your thought leaders and you'll be able to solve big problems. (or at least take a bite out of them)

Our team does it one way but there's no magic bullet here- what works for us might not work for your team.  Still, give this a try: 

1. Find an attractive meeting place.  We've met at retreat centers, business offices and restaurants.  Places that can provide food are best and you won't want to take your team too far away... a 45 minute drive is probably the most folks will want to travel.  People feel special when they can meet in a cool location.

2. Request one page reports prior to the meeting.  Folks should share what "wins" they've experienced and what bothers them.  This promotes vulnerability which builds teamwork.  

3. Practice constructivist leadership as you build the agenda.  Ask for input as you build the items that folks want to talk about.  You'll have some topics that you can "seed" the meeting with but there's no harm in letting the team build it with you. 

4. Use breaks often.  Take a break every 1.5 hours and let people know that there's light at the end of the meeting tunnel. 

5. Establish the Red Card process.  If something should not be in the minutes (and you'll want a meeting minutes taker), tell the note taker something like this, "Susan, this is a red card-" and then talk about whatever. 

6. Promote positive speak.  Remind people that the purpose of the meeting is not to speak negatively about anyone.  The meeting is not served well by speaking badly about anyone.   

7. Use the Parking Lot.  Not the pavement outside of the building, but a large piece of newsprint that you can use to "park" ideas that are worthy of discussion at a later time.  This gives people permission to surface issues without sidetracking the agenda.   

8. Wrap it up.  At the conclusion of the day, ask folks for their (brief) reflections on the day.  Again, this is a constructivist technique for sharing leadership with the group. 

These eight points work for us.  How about for your team as you seek to equip them as digital change agents? 

How to Look Smart During a Meeting

I gave a workshop recently to a group of parent volunteers on the topic of meeting management. We discussed the many ways to engage all participants, shorten meeting times (as I've written about here) and generally make meetings less painful for participants.  

Here's the thing- most folks are clueless about how their own behavior is perceived by others in meetings.  This is a problem when you consider how much time we spend in meetings.  I suggest we use meetings to not only get work done but also to build professional rapport with our colleagues.

What are some behaviors that are off-limits during meetings?  How about the following:

  • Yawning
  • Sighing
  • Slumping in your chair
  • Arriving late
  • Checking your phone
  • Doing email
  • Staring off into the distance 
  • Being rude or disinterested to others in the meeting
  • Asking off-putting questions (E.g. "When do I get a raise?")

Each of these behaviors can lead those around us to perceive us as lazy, bored, unprofessional or worst of all- incompetent.  

To contrast these off-limits behaviors, let's put on the table some things that you can do that will truly make you look smarter and build rapport with those around you.  These include but aren't limited to the following:

  • Arriving early
  • Taking notes
  • Silencing your phone
  • Looking interested
  • Sitting upright
  • Making visual contact with others in the meeting
  • Asking smart questions at the right time

Meetings are here to stay.  Let's choose to make the most out of them and look smart in the process.  

Photo courtesy of FDP

One Easy Way to Shorten Your Meetings

On any given day, I have meetings to attend.  You probably do too.  The problem is that most meetings go longer than they should.  

So how can you shorten them, outside of cancelling them altogether?  Before I tell you, let's call out something that routinely happens in schools.  Our meetings "linger" and lingering can add up over time.

Lingering is the process at the beginning of a meeting when folks make small talk. It's also present at the end of a meeting when folks know that they are done but hang around anyway.

Why does this happen?  "Nice guy syndrome" could be one culprit. We just find it hard to say that we're done and as a result, we hang out for just a few minutes to chit-chat and talk.  The problem is that this behavior can add five minutes here and five minutes there. 

Before you know it, your five minutes here and there have added up to a half hour over the course of a workday and possibly hours over the course of a month.  I just don't have that kind of time to spend on chit-chat and I bet you don't either.

Here's a solution that works well for me and my team: when the meeting is done, use a verbal trigger and simply stand up.  Our trigger is "ok we're good, thank you everyone" and we disperse.  Standing up will feel harsh at first but after a while, folks will get used to it.

Most importantly, you'll start using your time more efficiently and maximize your day.

Question: what works for you when it comes to ending meetings on  time?

Getting the Most out of Meetings
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If you've sat through a terrible meeting lately, you probably just recommitted yourself to doing meetings differently.  As I've posted about meetings for several years, here is a list of helpful posts:

6 Reasons Why it Makes Sense to Arrive Early for Meetings

9 Reasons to Go Off-Site for Your Next Meeting

How to Shift Terrible Meetings to Tolerable

The Ultimate Guide to Running Strong, Timely and Effective Meetings

3 Easy Ways to End a Meeting on Time

How Effective Are Your Meetings?

Readers of The Daily Saint probably know already, but I'm fond of recommending Pat Lencioni's Death by Meeting as a useful book for redesigning the format and space for meetings.

Photo by Amit Gupta
At Work, meetingsMike StPierre