All this time, you’ve been doing meetings wrong
Life in banking is a long string of meetings. Meetings to plan the meetings. Meetings themselves. Then meeting follow-ups. Meeting as actions. And meetings as outcomes.
No wonder consultants sell PowerPoint decks as deliverables since we are all willing to pay as if that was a thing.
It is not a thing.
PowerPoint is as much a substitute for delivery as a map is an adequate replacement for a holiday.
Not enough I hear you say.
But I digress. Back to meetings.
They are essential.
It is important to get in the room to discuss, align, negotiate, resolve, progress. It’s where we do show and tell. It’s where we ask for advice. It is where we meet half way. Assuming we came prepared to do all these things. Assuming we spend our time doing all these things.
But we all know that is not how it plays out.
Those things are very rarely done in meetings.
Because as an industry we insist on doing meetings wrong. It should not be possible to go so horrendously off the mark at such scale. And yet.
We do meetings wrong so universally and so consistently that entire generations of bankers think this is normal.
And it bothers me because it wastes my time and the time of the industry I love.
I have written before about how damaging it is for a startup to take a meeting too soon, before you are ready.
But bankers are guilty of wasting each others time, the startups time, their own time by defaulting to meetings as if there were a magical talismanic thing that will move stuff along just by taking place. Let’s take a meeting, the industry goes. Throw some folks together. And wait. Some magic is bound to ensue.
And when it doesn’t we have another meeting to figure out why.
Meanwhile we are so used to this pattern nobody stops to go this is crazy, we are doing meetings wrong: humans come together for a given time and a given purpose and yet in banking we only seem to remember half of that. We time box. But we don’t purpose-align.
There are three types of meetings in the world.
Seriously. Only three.
- The asking meeting. Where one party wants something the other party can give or facilitate. Money, approval, answer, adjudication.
- The doing meeting. Where the two parties have to come together to think through, brainstorm, collaborate and progress a piece of work.
- The waste of time meeting. Where neither of the above happens and more meetings ensue.
Any meeting you can think of fits in one of the above categories.
HR problem? Sales? Customer complaint? New idea pitch? Performance review? It can fit between 1 and 2 and straddle both. What it should not do is slide into 3. And yet that is where we often end up. No ask. No act. Just endless teddy bear tea parties.
Seriously, why do this to ourselves?
And before you say we can’t know a meeting will be useless before we attend it, I beg to differ and I will help you join me.
If your meeting doesn’t have a clear answer against one or more of the criteria below say no. Tell them why. Help them get better. Break the cycle. Seriously. Future generations of bankers will compose sonnets in your honour.
Whose is the meeting and what do they want? I don’t mean who sent the invite. I mean who needs the meeting. Who owns it. Who will run it to a conclusion, provide documents before the session, use the time wisely, ensure an outcome is reached and drive implementation after the meeting? If the answer is “I don’t know” don’t accept the meeting until you do.
And if you find out who asked for the meeting and discover they don’t know what they want, don’t take the meeting. They don’t deserve a meeting. They don’t need a meeting. They need to do their homework.
Why are you invited and what do you want from them? Why are you there? What is it that you can add or give? If unclear, ask. If unclear to them, don’t take the meeting.
Seriously. Just because you are asked you don’t have to go.
Oh and if there is nothing meaningful for you in the meeting don’t take the meeting. If the other side want something from you then let them work towards making you want to come to the table. Not taking the meeting will improve discipline on all sides. People should start eating their vegetables.
Is everyone you need for the outcome there? Is anyone you don’t need for the outcome and likely to contribute irrelevant opinions also there? If the meeting is about a decision then you need to look at the guest list. This is not a party. Do you need everyone on the distribution list? I am going with no. Call it a hunch.
And yet you invite them. Why do you do that?
And because you have invited every man and his dog, a lot will look at it and go “I don’t need to go, it’s covered” and you will end up with 12 people in the room but not Jill from compliance and Nancy from corporate strategy, so a follow up will be needed because they are the two people you actually needed in the room.
Is there a whiteboard. This is my favourite kind of meeting. The “let’s think together” meeting. The meeting most bankers don’t take because they are busy with meetings.
Years ago I organised a meeting with some very senior people who were too busy to spend time with their employees white-boarding a pretty interesting opportunity that had become apparent in the course of normal operational work. The ops folks could see it but didn’t feel empowered to flesh it out. And the people with the power and the glory were too busy. In meetings. Which meant that they refused to make time for the workshop but took my two-hour meeting. Because that’s how the industry operates.
The meeting request was typical in so many ways.
No agenda. No explanation. Just the name of my department in the subject, a room booking and a bunch of their peers on cc. You are guessing what happened next?
They trooped into the room. I came in pulling a white board on casters followed by some sheepish looking juniors who thought I was a total pirate and wanted to die of shame for being associated with what I was about to pull off.
I cancelled the meeting on the spot and told them now you are all here and oh look you have time to do some work with your team.
I stood in the corner feeling smug.
A whiteboard. A problem statement. Everyone needed to make a decision, a bunch of folks with a clear ask and the outcome was beautiful. A highly profitable and very effective solution put in operation soon after the session. Which is just as well because the alternative could have lost me, if not my job, a lot of good will. Now its remembered with affection. You rascal, type thing.
I regret to tell you, however, that this little escapade didn’t teach these folks how to stop doing meetings wrong. It felt like an exception. When it was a precedent.
There is comfort in the constant rambling cadence of identical meetings.
Comfort and waste.
And the industry is at breaking point.
Something’s gotta give.
I would take pains to make sure it’s not me. And to do that I need time and headspace to act and think.
What takes up all that headspace now?
You got it.
Meetings done wrong.
You are welcome.
By Leda Glyptis
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption as chief of staff at 11:FS and CEO of 11:FS Foundry.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!