Today morning I was checking my Facebook account and came across Harvard Business Review article over “How to Run a Meeting” (https://hbr.org/1976/03/how-to-run-a-meeting). I was overwhelmed by sheer length of the article. I must admit, I hate those long, unfruitful and agenda-less meetings. I think everybody does, isn’t it?
I started wondering, why HBR need to write such a long article on such a simple thing that we assume that everybody knows. It is just matter of checking all peoples’ calendar and sending them meeting invite and put the subject, venue etc. and done. In meeting as well, its straight forward, one person usually be the host, put forth the agenda and we discuss and at the end of the meeting, we share minutes of the meeting and action points. What is such a difficult thing in taking meetings?
The problem is not in taking meetings, it’s all about how we looked at this tool of communication and how effectively it’s been used in corporate world. If you really look again in HBR article, it’s been written in year 1976 and still the advice applies and still HBR fellows thought it is relevant in today’s world. It also means, not much things has been changed since last 40 years. We all, still curse ill-executed meetings. Traditionally executed meetings are always failures and count towards loss of productivity. Can we do something differently? Can we change, how we conduct meetings?
My views had been bit different on how to conduct the meeting thing. I am a big believer of 37 Signal’s philosophy of “Meetings are toxic” but also not able to avoid meetings completely. From last 5-6 years, I have been trying something different for meetings with my teams. After practicing with various teams and with different size companies in India, I think, it has made many of our meetings more productive and kept teams engaged. Most important is, we saved a lot of time which we might have wasted in conducting meetings in traditional sense.
My method is simple. I call it “Tapari meetings”. Together all team-members go for tea/coffee outside the office on nearby Tapari (tea-stall on the streets or around the street corners in India). If you don’t want to go outside office for some reason, then go to office pantry or gather around coffee machine and without any formal settings, start to discuss the topics everyone wanted to discuss. The topics can vary from what we need to do today to anything that is relevant to project/work. If team is like still relevantly new to each other, then you can start with common un-official topics like Sports, bikes, cars or any tourist places or anything. The important point is, team as proceed further with this daily routine, develops their own rules. You do not have to worry about setting rules in stones. My experience is developer and test engineers even nailed difficult bugs just by discussing them in such informal meetings and even executives has taken big decisions this way.
Advantages of such “Tapari Meetings”:
- keeps your meetings cheerful and awake. Since people walk to the Tapari (Indian tea-stall on the streets or around the street corners) or coffee machines.
- Meeting will run only for the time, people are having their tea/coffee and interested in the discussion.
- If you don’t have any set agenda, you don’t waste other people’s time.At least they can have tea-coffee and come back to their place.
- Soft issues can also be resolved since there can be “one more cutting de na bhaiyya” (One more tea, please) to sort out the issues.
- People only speak to the point and thinking on the feet since they don’t have ppts and any kind of papers.
- Since its only meeting where you have to remember things afterword, my observations are, people tend to conclude on action points and not interested in receiving minutes of meetings afterwards.
I understand that there will be few people who will always question about such drastic changes like having meeting outside and without any dashboard, ppts or even paper but I request you to try this method for few weeks and you will see the results.
Failure of our (may be specific to India only) traditional office system is highlighted when we think work only happens when people are at desk. Surprisingly, even president of USA and Prime Minister of India can work out their deals while having tea and walk. Do you think, your work is more important and more complex than theirs?
Let me know your thoughts.