“Now that we have the means to be instantly updated we can and should be very choosy about when we hold information meetings and why.” – David Pearl
In The Reasons Why People Meet, I introduced seven different types of meeting. In this post, we take a deeper dive into information meetings.
An effective information meeting creates shared understanding between the participants and within the organization. Nowadays, with all our rich communication channels, it’s relatively easy to spread information – so we should find ourselves in fewer and fewer information meetings.
If your experience differs, then your organization is probably doing meetings wrong.
David Pearl explains information meetings in detail from pages 169 to 178 of Will There Be Donuts?; this post borrows/adapts heavily from those pages, but is certainly not meant to be a replacement – and all credit to Pearl for his keen insights and useful advice.
Unfortunately, despite our many communications channels, we still find ourselves in too many meetings whose sole purpose is to inform. Why? Basically, because there’s too much information, and we feel the need to share it.
As Pearl tells us, “In an age of information glut, these meetings will tend to proliferate. And the meeting can get overrun with peripheral detail. So it’s essential we understand the intent of the meeting and include only that information which is relevant.”
“It’s essential we understand the intent of the meeting and include only that information which is relevant.”
To help decide what’s relevant, it’s instructive to visit “the why” of information meetings in a bit more detail; from there, we can also determine who needs to attend/participate.
||To help decide who to invite, ask these questions:
Of course, we’ve all – under the best of intentions – booked meetings and deliberately omitted people because we didn’t think there was value for them, only to hear complaints.
(Personally, I’m thankful when people don’t include me on meetings when I can find the information elsewhere or be provided with it by another means.)
Pearl cautions us that,
“The same people who complain about having too many meetings are often to be found inviting themselves to information meetings because ‘they need to know what is going on.’ Information Tourism is rife in organizations these days, not least because the feeling endures that ‘knowledge is power.’ Be very clear in your own mind when inviting people to an information meeting that the people who attend genuinely need the information and don’t just feel more important if they have it.”
Perhaps it’s easier said than done, but it’s the right thing to do. Be strong!
“The same people who complain about having too many meetings are often to be found inviting themselves to information meetings because ‘they need to know what is going on.'”
Pearl also advises us to consider if this is an input or output meeting: is the main information flowing into participants (i.e., input) or being drawn out of them (i.e., output)?
Input meetings are generally shorter and easier to stage, because they’re simpler – often a one-to-many communication; output meetings are best set up as a forum, so participants feel comfortable sharing the information they have.
Finally, we need to consider “the what” of information meetings. Pearl cautions us that meetings for information are often unnecessarily boring as a consequence of their format: typically information is shared by rank (senior first), by volume (loudest), or by chance (“have an ‘organic’ chat and hope the relevant information appears”).
To combat this routine staleness, he recommends trying a different method each time, and generously provides us with his top 10 ways to share information:
- By topic/issue: the leaders asks people to share any information they have about topic X; after X is covered, repeat with Y, and so on
- By urgency: start with the most urgent, and then go to the next-most urgent; cut it off once you get into things that aren’t urgent
- By importance: similar to by urgency, but a slightly different criterion
- What’s essential: similar to the above
- Against the clock: each participant gets X minutes
- By request: participants share only information with which they require help from other participants
- Show and Tell: participants share an update (best to limit the time)
- Loose Ends: share only what’s not yet done from last time
- To Dos: share only what will happen between now and the next meeting
- Any Questions: only deal with items that need further clarification from other participants
Pearl also warns us about a handful of things to watch out for that’ll negatively impact the effectiveness of your information meetings and the enjoyment of your meetings’ participants…but I won’t reproduce them here.
Wanna learn about the other meeting types? Check out The Reasons Why People Meet.