The purpose of this meeting is...

by Joe Havelick 14. March 2012 15:58

If you're like me, then you find yourself in too many meetings which you need to ask "what is the purpose of this meeting?" partway through it.

Every meeting should start with the phrase "The purpose of this meeting is...". Even better, every meeting invitation should include that statment.

To be clear, a good description doesn't fit in a meeting title field, like "Customer Issues". It's a full sentence that says something like "The purpose of this meeting is to review the list of active customer issues, assign relative priorities, and use the remaining time to discuss solutions to the highest prioritiy issues." The same goes for periodic meetings. Instead of just "Monthly staff meeting", include a description like "The purpose of this meeting is to discuss progress on long term priorities, review the schedule, and present the latest prototype of the product."

Why?

  • Meetings are expensive. Rather, gathering a group of resources together in a forum that really only allows one of them to actively particpate at a time is a hell of a way to spend salaries.
  • If someone has nothing to do with the purpose, it gives them the chance to opt out. It's like getting on a plane and the pilot saying "This flight goes to Dallas." If you're not sure why you're there, then ask the organizer why you were invited.
  • It keeps the meeting on task. Again, these things are expensive. If you have a bunch of people in a room for one purpose and you tangent, you're potentially wasting the time of a fraction of that group. Being able to suggest that the tangental discussion be noted and brought "offline" to focus on the purpose is a valuable tool.
  • It helps people focus on the most important thing. Going into a meeting where people just start talking and eventually indicate their question or problem causes people to have to go back and rethink about what they heard. Being able to state the purpose upfront allows people to take in all information in the correct context.
  • By stating it ahead of time, it lets people collect their thoughts and resources to be prepared for the discussion.
  • It's a courtesy. Depending on your situation, you may or may not be able to opt out of certain meetings. If you are, woudn't it be nice to have the information about whether you can contribute before you book the time? If you can't wouldn't you expect that the organizer at least takes the time to clue you in on the purpose, rather than just demanding that you appear?
  • It forces the organizer to... organize. Why am I having this meeting? Do all invitiees need to be there? Can I achieve the same results asyncronously, like over email?

This is something that I try to practice regularly and hope that other people catch on. It's a small habit that can make a major impact.

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