Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Work is what we do BETWEEN meetings

I think that everyone who works at a university should have to remind themselves of this, every day: WORK IS WHAT WE DO BETWEEN MEETINGS.

Meaning that if you spend all day in meetings, you were doing NOTHING. Sure, you were AT work, and you were not having fun, but you didn't WORK.

Now, meetings are necessary so that we can get work done. So is defecation. But we don't brag about it afterwards. Why do we brag about meetings? "Man, I was in meetings for six hours today! I am so tired."

There are some rules for meetings that do make sense. Some of this is mine, some is borrowed verbatim from here.

Rules for Useful Meetings

1. Remind yourself mentally at the beginning of two things. Seriously, I want you all to say these things silently to yourselves, before EVERY meeting:
a. I am so wise. It is impossible for me to share all of my wisdom at this meeting. So I am going to keep some of this wisdom to myself, even though the sound of my voice is a blessing that all the world's peoples beg for.
b. Some errors are going to have to pass uncorrected. Other people are so ill-informed, and dumb that they may have opinions that differ from mine. Nonetheless, I am going to allow them to express those views without demanding equal time (at least) to correct those views. In particular, if I say "A," and someone says, "not A", that means we disagree. It is not necessary for me to repeat, "A." It is not true that whoever speaks last, wins.

2. Stand PAT: A meeting has to have: a Purpose, an Agenda, and a Timeframe.

You should be able to define the PURPOSE of the meeting in 1 or 2 sentences at most. "This meeting is to plan the class schedule for spring semester" or "this meeting is to come up with proposals for revising the undergrad curriculum." That way everyone knows why they are there, what needs to be done, and how to know if they are successful.

Set an AGENDA. List the items you are going to review/discuss/inspect. Better if you can give some idea of time, and the person who will speak or begin the discussion.

Set a TIMEFRAME. At the very least set a start and end time, and try to set a duration for each item in the agenda. These should total to the overall meeting timeframe.

3. Don't Wait (I have whined about time before)
Meetings need to start on time. Don't wait for stragglers to show up. When someone arrives late, don't go back and review what has already been covered. That just wastes the time of the people who showed up on time for the meeting. (This one is tough. What do you do if the latester ASKS what already happened. I suggest the cut direct, though I never actually do that). And, of course, don't be late yourself.

4. Keep and send minutes
Someone, other than the meeting organizer, should keep minutes of the meeting. How detailed these are depends on the nature of what is being discussed and the skill of the available note taker. If you set an agenda in the first place, as you should have, the note taker can use that as an outline. The minutes should record who attended, what was discussed, any agreements that were reached, and any action items that were assigned. And then SOON, within a day or two, the minutes of the meeting should be distributed to all who attended, any invitees who did not attend, and anyone else effected by the discussion. Emailing the minutes tells even those not at the meeting of the progress that was made and reminds everyone of their action items. (I try to do this one, but often fail. And I always regret it. So, do as I say, not as I do.)

1 comment:

Jim Hu said...

Excellent points. My thoughts here. Excerpt:
"Given that the purpose of meetings is largely to record decisions, it's all the more appalling that faculty are generally so bad at generating minutes. If someone in my lab does an experiment but doesn't record it, it's worse than not doing it at all. It doesn't count, and they've wasted time and supplies. But we do this all the time in faculty meetings."