Workers gathered around computers and table at workMeetings.  Love them or hate them, they are a regular part of most of our careers, and as we have all experienced, some meetings are much better than others.

We have all been in that meeting that goes on and on, meandering through all sorts of ideas without coming to any resolution, often creating more questions than it answers.  We have also been in meetings where the boss walks in, broadcasts his announcements, and then closes the meeting without feedback.  Then, when the stars align and the clouds part so the angels can play their harps, we have that meeting with a clear and published agenda, where everyone has an opportunity to contribute, and each idea is considered independently of who suggested it.

In all cases, much of the success of the meeting falls on the organizer, so we do rely on a certainly level of leadership.  However, it is possible for us to be excellent attendees and, with a room full of stellar participants, an average meeting can become a great one.

  1. Don’t just be on time.  Be Early.  Don’t leave anyone waiting for you.  Everyone is taking time from their day to be there (by choice or not).  If the meeting can start without you, this is somewhat less important, but be sure to honor the decisions made before you arrived.  After all, you were not there to represent.  If you come in late, don’t make a fuss.  Just take your seat and slide into the meeting as appropriate.
  2. Don’t Be Afraid to be Wrong.  It’s okay to be wrong.  Sometimes you need to start with the wrong position on purpose!  Have you ever been in a meeting that devolves into a navel gazing exercise?  Where people were too afraid of speaking because they might appear dumb in front of the boss?  Those meetings are a complete waste of time.  In those meetings, someone willing to speak up (even if they are wrong) can save the entire meeting!
  3. Hold on Loosely.  Once you share an idea, let it go.  Let the group own it.  Let everyone mold it and attach a little bit of ownership.  Allow your idea to take on a different shape.  Let it grow.  Let it turn into something completely different (or even the opposite) as long as it moves things forward.
  4. Know as much as you can, realize others may not, but listen anyway!  Surely you’ve heard the expression, “hire a teenager while they still know everything.”  Well, let me offer a humble thank you to the many engineers who suffered through weeks of meetings with a much younger, much more naive version of myself.  Those engineers knew so much more than I did, yet they accepted me as a peer and allowed me to step in it a time or two.  They even tolerated inane rants that were, at times, completely uninformed by reality.  There was, however, some treasure in my ignorance.  There was a certain amount of “just do it” that ignored all the “reasons why it’s impossible.”  I managed to contribute even though there were so many things I did not understand.  Just because I didn’t know all of the nuances of the whole problem space, I carried an understanding of my own that the others lacked.  So when you go into a meeting, make sure you understand things as much as you possibly can…but no more.  Appreciate all the interpersonal dynamics and realize that, no matter how complete you think your picture is, there is someone with additional information and a different perspective.  They may not be as polished, as tactful, or as deliberate, but listen anyway.  You might learn something.
  5. Remember, It’s all an experiment!
  6. Be Clear on the Goal.  This is the most important guideline that trumps all the others.  You have to have some idea of what you are trying to accomplish. Know what your end state is and work toward that.  When you are focused on the big picture, the details are often less important.  If you are wrong, it’s okay if the goal is met.  If your idea changes, it’s okay if the goal is met.  If you run a different experiment, it’s okay if it serves the goal.

When we can go to meetings and check our pride at the door, we are much better attendees.  Our goal is not to be the best, we need to be our best.