Read This Before Our Next Meeting – The Modern Meeting Standard by Al Pittampalli is a short 70 page book published by Seth Godin’s Domino Project.
Al is passionate about changing how we conduct meetings. How many we have, their content and how we prepare for them.
Here is his manifesto in summary and I’ve added my commentary in italics to add to the conversation because I think some of his ideas are powerful but some are flawed.
His principal thesis is that Traditional Meetings are broken, an inefficient use of our time and need to change immediately and be replaced by less frequent Modern Meetings.
7 Principals of The Modern Meeting
- Modern Meetings support a decision that has already been made
- Modern Meetings move fast and stay on schedule
- Modern Meetings limits the number of attendees
- Modern Meetings reject the unprepared
- Modern Meetings produce committed action plans
- Modern Meetings refuses to be informational, reading memos is mandatory
- Modern Meetings work only alongside a culture of brainstorming
Only Two Types of Meetings
- Conflict Meetings – attendees debate the decision put forward by the sponsor, propose alternatives, suggest modifications, address concerns and agree actions.
- Coordination Meetings – Complex coordination from different teams is required to execute the decision and a meeting is required to agree the plan.
The following existing meetings are abolished:
- Convenience meetings/status update meetings
- Formality Meetings (eg traditional sales meetings presumably)
- Social Meetings
These are replaced by conversations, memos but not meetings.
Group work sessions where you work on a project together are good news but they are not meetings.
Brainstorm sessions are essential but they are not run like Modern Meetings, they are run as free flowing, timed sessions around a topic managed by a facilitator.
Now there is a lot to like about Al’s ideas but I have a few issues:
- He misunderstands the inspiration and learning experience a well run sales meeting brings to a company. A deal can be on the rocks and intervention by a smart manager can make a huge difference. These issues come up through debate of live deals in an open encouraging sales meeting (Now I know some sales meetings are not run that way).That sales meeting is a formal meeting that Al would apparently abolish.
- Progress meetings can be vital to get emotional involvement that a one to one conversation or a memo would never achieve. Again Al would probably abolish those.
- I like the idea of a Modern Meeting where the sponsor presents a recommended decision and the time of the meeting is focused on supporting that decision however, I wouldn’t underestimate the time required under Al’s thesis, for the sponsor to meet with key people, one on one, to resolve their conflict, understand their issues, discuss it through with them and then do that 6 more times with the other 6 key managers!
Finally Al offers a model example of an Agenda for the Modern Meeting here.
I would argue that his proposed agenda is not an agenda it is a vital background scene setter but it is not an agenda. Here is the agenda for his example:
- Discuss risks of increased overhead and volume re call center.
- Discuss and agree Redemption Protocol.
- Agree adequate restrictions that mitigate risk.
- Discuss any other barriers to successful deployment of decision.
- Agree actions, responsibilities and deadlines.
Let the debate continue.
The problem with writing a book about meetings is that you can’t cover ALL meetings, you have to generalize. I probably wouldn’t consider most sales meetings as Modern Meetings, nor should they be treated as such. So your insights might be valid there.
As for the one on one interactions before a decision is made, of course it’s time consuming…that’s the point. If you’re consulting with 6 people for every decision, that’s a signal to me of a flawed decision making structure.
I enjoyed your commentary.
Al, I do like your idea of reaching out to key stakeholders prior to a meeting and as you say in many companies this may highlight a flawed decision making process (however that’s another book in itself) as in far too many people are having to be touched to get a decision.
I suppose I’m struggling with your new narrow definition of Modern Meetings which would exclude key team performance/progress reviews and actions. I think these latter meetings that I’ve chaired have deployed many of your 7 Principles ie 2 to 7 just not 1.
I do accept that in a short book where you are trying to change 100 years of bad meeting practices you need to adopt a both-barrels mind-blasting agenda. I think to make your approach stick in an organization may require a little compromise which must sound like an oxymoron to you!