Matt Gornick

Why meetings fail and how to change that

Posted in Work by mgornick on May 16, 2009

I recently attended several meeting which, in hindsight, turned out to be completely pointless.  Oddly enough, we have meetings to fulfill a particular goal (e.g. inform others, brainstorm, follow-up on pending tasks) but when meetings occur just because their is nothing else to do, everything gets lost in translation.

I see one huge reason that meetings fail: lack of strict agenda.  From this there are two things that could occur:

1. There is absolutely no agenda at all, or

2. There is an agenda but it is not strictly adhered to

The first bad, but the second is worse.  May people lack agendas in their meetings because they don’t think ahead or they do not think that it will drastically improve the quality of their meeting.  Unfortunately, it is even worse when people think that their agenda is solid and perfect.  This gives people the false sense of hope that their meeting will in turn be successful and productive even though the opposite is usually true.

So how do you fix dysfunctional meetings?  There have been books written on this topic and a laundry list of remedies that people prescribe, but their are two fundamental laws that should be followed:

1. Create an agenda.  This includes:

  • creating a document that outlines the date/time/duration this meeting will occur
  • key bullet points that need to be addressed (limit to ~2 or 3 per hour)
  • sub-bullet points that are more specific and granular
  • try to separate the document so notes can be taken on the paper (if necessary)

2. Follow that agenda.  This includes:

  • Having the person in charge (usually the one who created the agenda in the first place) keep the group from digressing.  This is critical!  Many meetings start with a goal to inform the team of everyone’s progress only to find that one person spoke and then started a debate about new features, previous meetings/engagements, and highly granular topics.
  • Sometimes the agenda creator is shy or timid and thus feels bad if they need to cut a topic off or move onto other items.  I would recommend trying a timer or something to the effect of, “We’re going to go around the table and give about 5 minutes per person to fill everyone in on what action items they’ve completed. Go!”  This gives each person a clear understanding that they need to fit possibly months of work into a 5 minute summary so they need to be concise and cogent.  Once you allow for unlimited time to be spent talking and digressing, the meeting will in fact fail.

This summer, I’ll be following my own advise when setting up meetings with OrangeQC.  We’ll be following a mix of Agile and Extreme Programming methodologies in order to get things done.  I’ll keep you in the loop as to the successes and failures of my future meetings.

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Secret to Success from JP Morgan

Posted in Personal by mgornick on May 19, 2008

I’ve heard this story from multiple sources; it may be fiction or it may be fact.  Regardless it gets the point across of a tactic that few actually follow to be successful.

The following excerpt is quoted from (http://personalmba.com/quotes/jp-morgans-guaranteed-formula-for-success/): 

One day, a man approached JP Morgan, held up an envelope, and said, “Sir, in my hand I hold a guaranteed formula for success, which I will gladly sell to you for $25,000.” 

“Sir,” JP Morgan replied, “I do not know what is in the envelope. However, if you show me and I like it, I give you my word as a gentleman that I will pay you what you ask.”

The man agreed to the terms and handed over the envelope. JP Morgan opened it, and extracted a single sheet of paper. He gave it one look and handed the piece of paper back to the gent, pulled out his checkbook, and paid the man the agreed-upon $25,000.

The paper read:

  1. Every morning, write a list of the things that need to be done that day.
  2. Do them.

Something so basic, simple, and brilliant is so often overlooked.  I try to wake up in the morning and produce a list of things I want to do.  When it comes to the execution of those tasks, I get side tracked, or remember another task to do, or an exhausted, or simply find a reason to postpone the task.  To alleviate some of these common failures in execution, I came up with some tips.

First and most obvious you need a list of things that you need to do for that day.  Take the list and reorder in order of priority.  Example, studying for my upcoming Multi-variable Calculus Final has higher priority than catching up on my RSS feeds or reading the newspaper.  Once the tasks are in order, break them into smaller subtasks that can be crossed out when complete.  Example, the task is to study for my final so my subtasks can be to reread Chapters 5,6,7; go over lecture notes; study homework assignments 14 and 15; study online quizzes.  This level or organization helps keep you moving through the task; studying for a final can take days (or hours if you’re like me and every other college student) so breaking it into bite-sized chunks of subtask will give you the satisfaction of completing necessary items as well as accomplishing the large goliath of a big task.  I have found this basic addition to JP Morgan’s success has helped me stay focused on my end goal as well as focus on specifics that I may have forgotten if I didn’t write it down.  

I will be starting my reread of David Allen’s book, “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity”, and posting about some ideas that I can refocus on.