Balancing the 4 Basic ‘Food Groups’ of Meetings

Dan BobinskiLast month in part one of this two-part series about meetings, I compared meetings to food, because as food is to humans, meetings are necessary for organizations to survive and thrive. I also pointed out that in the same way that too much food makes people slow and lethargic, too many meetings can cause organizations to become similarly sluggish. Another parallel I pointed out was that too few meetings can cause information starvation, which reduces an organization’s capability of operating effectively.

Staying with the food analogy, this month I want to talk about maintaining organizational health by balancing the type of meetings your organization has. That’s because you may have an appropriate number of meetings (i.e., an appropriate number of meals during the day), but if you’re having too many of one type of meeting, it’s like eating too many carbs and skipping the fats and proteins. After all, if we’re striving toward being a healthy organization, shouldn’t we answer the question, “What is a healthy balance of meetings?”

It’s possible to take all the different types of meetings that occur in the workplace and categorize them into four basic groups. I’m not the only one to do this. In his book, “Death by Meeting,” best-selling author Patrick Lencioni also identifies four types of meetings, and his book is very insightful as to why meetings work well and why they don’t.

But staying with our food analogy, let’s suggest that a balanced diet of meetings includes something from each of the following four groups.

Informational Meetings

Status meetings fall into this category. So do presentations that explain what a company does or how a particular product or service will benefit you. Although usually led by one person, they can be interactive.

Another type of informational meeting is what Lencioni calls the “daily check-in.” This is a short, 5-10 minute daily meeting that lets team members know what other team members are doing. To ensure it stays short, Lencioni recommends that nobody sits down during the meeting!

This type of update meeting is common in some restaurants, sometimes referred to as an alley rally. At such meetings, managers meet with servers before a shift starts to review that night’s specials, what wines would pair well with them, plus any other information to keep the restaurant operating at peak efficiency.

Like snacks in between main meals, informational meetings are short, with just enough tidbits of information to keep the organization energized.

That said, in today’s workplace, face-to-face meetings aren’t always possible. Many teams today work remotely, so they’ve had to find alternative methods to “meet.” Programs like Skype or GoToMeeting are viable options for the modern workforce, even with teams working on multiple continents.

Problem-Solving Meetings

This type of meeting is more structured, and can be used for resolving disputes or a crisis, or identifying and removing obstacles that are slowing things down. Lencioni’s “weekly tactical” meeting falls into this category. Problem-solving meetings address issues to help teams reach their strategic goals.

An agenda is often used at such meetings, although Lencioni’s approach is not to create the agenda until after everyone in attendance gives a two-minute overview of their projects and what problems they’re facing. Using our food analogy, you can adjust the recipe as best suits your team.

Typically such meetings last one or two hours, but if the agenda is accomplished in less time, there’s no reason to stay in the meeting. A great example of this comes from an acquaintance of mine, Jerry, who heads up a small consulting firm in Southern California. On his way out the door to attend a meeting called by a client to solve a production problem, Jerry told his assistant to expect him back in “two or three hours.”

When Jerry walked back in 40 minutes later, his secretary asked if the meeting was cancelled. “No,” said Jerry, “We simply resolved the problem right away. There was no reason to sit around and talk after we accomplished the purpose of the meeting.”

Planning Meetings

The purpose of planning meetings is making higher-level decisions. Such meetings often include plenty of constructive debate, analysis, and investigation into the issues.

Planning meetings are most effective when they answer the question, “What should we be doing and why should we be doing it?” Lencioni’s “monthly strategic” meeting falls into this group. Whereas problem-solving meetings address the issues of how to reach a team’s strategic goals, planning meetings are for creating those goals. A key to success in these meetings is to have a variety of voices looking at issues from multiple perspectives.

Retreats/Teambuilding Meetings

These meetings allow teams to step back from the action and refocus. For that reason, it’s good if these meetings take place off site, away from email and ringing phones. Questions to ask at such meetings include: What has worked well? What hasn’t worked? Are people in the right place? Are we headed in the right direction? How are we working together as a team?

Lencioni’s “quarterly off-site review” falls into this category. He recommends such meetings have light schedules, limited social activities, and keep their focus primarily on what’s going on at work. In all cases, the purpose of these meetings is to analyze things from a bird’s eye view.

By the way, for meetings that are offsite and one or two days long, it’s a good idea to have at least part of the meeting facilitated by someone from outside the company. People outside the political loop can speak to issues without fear of reprisal.

Done right, retreats and teambuilding meetings help team members to get to know each other. This pays off on the job in the form of better communication, team cohesiveness, and a stronger commitment to team goals and objectives.

The bottom line in all this? Take a look at the types of meetings you hold and the frequency of each. A few adjustments may give you a healthier organization.

Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed., is the CEO of Workplace-Excellence.com, helping teams and individuals learn how to use Emotional Intelligence. He’s also a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats.  Reach him at info@mdpublishing.com or editor@mdpublishing.com.