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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Top Ten: No more rubbish meetings!

Several years ago, Deb Mitchell, the Director of the Australian Social Science Data Archive, visited ICPSR during one of our Council sessions.  A bunch of us were bemoaning the number of meetings we attended, and how so many of them were so ill-focused.  We felt that many of the meetings lacked a clear purpose or goal, had no agenda, and often included too many people (but often lacked the actual key stakeholders!).  At the end of the conversation, Deb exclaimed:
No more rubbish meetings!
And that was our mantra for the rest of the month.

And so with that same spirit in mind, I present my top ten list of how to avoid the dreaded "rubbish meeting."
  1. The meeting must have a goal.  Example meeting goals are: we share information, we make a decision, or we discuss an issue that requires some conversation.  Each goal has a different output, of course.
  2. The meeting should end when the goal is reached.
  3. The stakeholders MUST be at the meeting; the meeting cannot be productive without them.
  4. Send the goal (or the agenda - which is a roadmap of how to reach the goal) far enough in advance of the meeting so that any necessary research can be completed.
  5. If meeting participants will need to review documents in order to achieve the meeting goal, the documents must be sent well ahead of the meeting.
  6. Come to the meeting prepared.
  7. Summarize the decisions reached (if decision-making was the goal) at the end of the meeting.  This sometimes takes the form of listing the action items.  ("We decided that X will do Y...")
  8. Size the meeting appropriately.  If the goal is to brainstorm the requirements of a highly complex system with many moving parts, don't try to fit it into a single 30-minute meeting.  Break it into smaller chunks, or schedule more time, like a day-long retreat (if it is important).
  9. Do not rely on the "Subject" line of a meeting invite or email to convey the goal; be explicit in the body of the invite or the email.
  10. Despite the best of preparations and intention, a meeting will sometimes head off into the weeds and cease to be useful.  Never be afraid to pull the plug, and live to meet another day.
I'll post notes about the Designing Storage Architectures for Digital Preservation event - definitely not a rubbish meeting! - later this week.

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