Meetings have been getting a bad rap lately with countless articles coming out about why you shouldn’t bother having brainstorming meetings and just saying no to meetings. I agree, there are few things more frustrating and counterproductive as purposeless meetings. But that doesn’t mean meetings must be abolished all together. It is in meetings that we can collaborate, brainstorm, inspire each other, and come up with or renew a vision that guides our long term pursuits.
You have to admit, there have been some pretty productive meetings in business history. It was at an informal lunch meeting in 1994 that John Lasseter and three writers at Pixar drafted ideas for four of their most successful films (Finding Nemo, Bug’s Life, Wall-E, and Monster’s Inc.). From that one lunch came the spark that eventually (after a whole lot more hard work by hundreds of people) resulted in four films that earned a combined total of over 1 billion dollars, 15 oscar nominations, 3 oscars, and 2 sequels. Now I would call that a successful brainstorm session.
Another lunch that changed the world was when a Mr. Charles Rolls, owner of one of the first car dealerships in the world, ate with Mr. Henry Royce, a forward thinking engineer. Their goal was to create “the best car in the world.” The two realized that by combining their talents they could do something nobody had done before. They immediately signed a partnership that lead to great leaps in the automobile industry.
So what are the characteristics of meetings that have really changed the world? I decided to do a study of some of the most impactful meetings in history to see if I could find principles that they shared:
Keep it small.
One thing that all of the the successful meetings I looked at shared was that they were small and tight-knit. Every person invited was critical to the conversation. By inviting too many guests, you risk attendees becoming inattentive. Also, people are less likely to share their honest opinions and beginnings of ideas to a large crowd.
Steve Jobs was famous for keeping his meetings as tiny as possible. He would actually ask individual people why they were there. If he wasn’t convinced by their pitch, he would show them the door.
Come prepared, but keep it informal.
Meetings are a time where people who are passionate about something can share ideas and get feedback. They should not be a time to hide behind power points haphazardly pieced together beforehand. Everyone who comes to the meeting should come with an agenda in mind and a part of the meeting under their control. Try to avoid formal presentations which tend to be long and boring.
Once you have the right people there, they should be free to say whatever they need to say. A comfortable atmosphere is important so that decision makers don’t hold back from being honest.
Don’t forget the food.
There is something about food. The idea of negotiating over a meal is not a new one. In fact, it has been done across the globe for as far back in time as we can track. Now studies are being conducted to test what it is that makes sharing a meal the most profitable time for business.
Perhaps it is because sharing a meal helps you to relate to your business partners. Food lightens the mood and creates a shared experience that makes people relaxed and comfortable.
Also, working over a meal gives you captive time. People expect to spend more time eating than they would in a non-food based meeting. And yet, because they have something to munch on they are less likely to get bored and gravitate to their phones or other distractions.
Not to mention food gives your body brain power to keep your neurotransmitters working their very best. Eating immediately raises glucose levels which helps the brain work through complex activities.
Meet when you are desperate.
Never call a meeting without a clear goal and deadline. For meetings to be productive, you need a certain amount of desperation driving people to set forth their best ideas and then work through their differences.
When the big three, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin met in Tehran to discuss strategy for WWII, they each came with their own conflicting agendas. And yet, because they realized that people were dying every day in unthinkable numbers and the fate of the war and the world lay in their hands, they were desperate to work through their differences.
Against all odds, they were able to work together and create plans for D-Day and other strategies that led to a remarkable Allied victory.
The point is, don’t just call for meetings willy nilly. Call for meetings when you have a specific agenda and a desperate problem to solve. Bring in only the people who can help solve the problem. Lead the meeting with a sense of urgency to keep your attendees off their smart phones and focused on the task at hand. By following these tried and true principles, you can plan future meetings that result in your own landmark victories.