May 10, 2012

Designing Better Meetings

Designing Experiences

Meetings are an essential part of how we work, enabling people to coordinate their activity, to inspire and learn from each other, and to build community. But, meetings can be the most dreadful part of our work, accounting for between 5 and 15 hours of each week with about 70% of that time seen as unproductive, according to the two most cited meeting behavior surveys, one by Microsoft and the other by the National Statistics Council

The problem is that when we meet, we rarely meet by design. There is rarely an agenda, the right people aren’t involved, how to participate hasn’t been well established, what needs to be produced may be unclear, and the right technology and setting are often lacking. We’ve all fallen victim these meetings: the unnecessary update meeting, the “can you repeat that” multi-tasking session, the milestone decision meeting that ends without one…

To fix this, we need to treat meetings as a service – a service whose customers are the attendees – and understand that this service needs to be designed. Brightspot, with contributions from Professor Susan Worthman of the California College of the Arts, has developed a meeting design toolkit that steps meeting organizers and participants through the “5Ps” of meeting service design (now in beta testing). Briefly, the 5Ps are:

  • Purpose: Every meeting should have a stated goal or purpose that determines how to prepare for, facilitate, and document a meeting – and confirm that you even need to meet. This might include: kicking-off a project, developing a vision or strategy, generating ideas, developing ideas, solving a program, or building consensus.
  • Participants: Many meetings fail because the right participants are not present or because participants do not know what kind of group they belong to; for instance, are they an advisory group charged with making recommendations, are they board assembled to make decisions, or are they a project team coordinating their work?
  • Protocols: Getting the purpose and participants clear are good first steps, but these must be complemented by making clear what the protocols are – how people should participate. This includes assigning roles, how you’ll allocate time, how formal or informal the tone should be, how you’ll make decisions, and what the etiquette should be throughout.
  • Products: Determining what the meeting must physically produce is a great way to communicate and confirm the purpose, participants and protocols. Having a tangibly described product – such as a list of ideas, a set of goals, or a storyboard – makes the group’s work concrete and enables a shared sense of what must be accomplished, along with the skills, supplies, space, and people needed.
  • Place: The right setting for the meeting should ideally be determined by the other four factors, but it may not always be available. So, these should be adjusted based on the space, technology, and furniture options. This means considering the location of the participants; the size, configuration, and flexibility of the venue; and the timing and duration of the meeting.

By thinking through the “5Ps” we can improve meetings and increase the satisfaction of their customers and the value they create. Let us know what you think and if you’d like to take the toolkit for a test drive.

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