Meetings: The PGP Conjunction
Earlier this year I published several posts on meetings, uncovering some reasons why they can be a waste of time, or how they can be productive. This subject has many more perspectives than seen on the surface, and today I’d like to highlight one basic idea.
Any meeting includes the following three components, and its success would depend on how well those components fit together:
- Problem: issues to be addressed
- Goal: the desired outcome
- People: they need to have a shared understanding of problems and goals
The quirky green-red thing in the middle is supposed to visualize the volatility of the conjunction.The notorious feeling of wasted time at meetings is usually related to the bad cohesion of those three components.
The so-called technical meeting is where the components fit best. Such meetings can happen on the fly as two to three experts discuss a clearly outlined technical problem, looking for a clearly outlined goal. This is straightforward. The technical problems are obvious, they are discussed openly, and with focus. The “instant” meetings always have the right people due to the very nature of the subject matter. This is a perfect setup, since all the components overlap.
Misfits begin when at least one of the components breaks loose from the nucleus. This usually happens at decision-making meetings (non-technical). If not all people have a good understanding of the subject matter, however valuable their input might be, it would take extra time to get them on the same page with the others. In this case, it would be reasonable to narrow down the selection of the participants or take some time before the meeting to educate them. We all must have been at meetings where three or more people have to wait until someone is caught up with what everybody else understands. The three or more people get impatient and irritated while this education process takes place. It’s not bad to explain things to people, though. But this has to be done elsewhere, at some other “educational” meeting, not at the decision-making one.
Next, the integrity of meetings is ruined by blurred goals. For non-technical meetings, the goal should clearly be identified as one of the following: is this meeting supposed to uncover any missing facts to back up the decision, or is it purely a decision-making meeting? Some strategic decisions might require a series of prep meetings until it gets to the point that the group can make a decision.
The key to successful decision-making meetings is to try to make them technical. Cut them down into pieces, and bring together as few people as possible to resolve a clearly outlined problem, with a clear goal in mind. It’s more effective and reasonable to break the subject matter into smaller problems, address them in turn, and take it to the next decision-making level and to the next meeting. The PGP abbreviation in the name of the post implies this approach with a play on words: PGP = Pretty Good Privacy.