I never thought I’d be intellectually engaged by a so called “business guru” but I’ve recently begun reading Ray Dalio’s Principles through LinkedIn and have found them tremendously uplifting and useful. In an effort to bring principled thinking to my own work, I’ve tried to come up with a framework to become useful to others. To me, this means being efficient and valuable. Much of the time I spend at work is in meetings and I thought I’d begin to reflect on what it means to be efficient and valuable during meetings. In my own personal context, this means coming to meetings prepared. I’ve therefore attempted to develop this framework with that end in mind and I hope it’s useful to me and to those who are kind enough to read my blog. This post is intended not so much as an exposition of an idea but as a checklist. I hope you’ll give me feedback in the comments and help me improve the ideas I’ve set out here.
(As a side note, I highly recommend reading Aristotle’s Rhetoric, upon which I drew inspiration for this post).
Meetings happen in ways that fit into three buckets, broadly speaking: those where one or more people wish to galvanize others to pursue action in one direction or another; when a group decision must be made and when information is to be shared. Meetings don’t necessarily happen in one of these buckets exclusively but can move from one to the other at different times. I’ll call them persuasive, deliberative and informative.
Persuasive meetings: during these meetings, the goal of a speaker is to present an argument for or against an action. If I participate in such a meeting, I’ll try to keep the following in mind:
- A good argument has three key parts: terms, premises and conclusions. The key questions to ask are:
- Are the terms clearly defined? Do I understand the key definitions of what is being talked about? Do I think there is overlap in terms?
- Are the premises true or false?
- Are the arguments valid or invalid?
- Do I agree or disagree with the argument? Why?
- Do I understand what would make my point of view invalid?
Deliberative meetings: in these meetings, the goal is to reach a team consensus or deeper understanding of an issue at hand. For these meetings, I’ll try to have these questions answered by the time the meeting is finished:
- What is the task or project that we need to define?
- How many different parts does it have?
- How long is the task going to take? How long are each of the parts going to take?
- Who should do what?
- What are the criteria for progress?
- When do we want to regroup to evaluate progress?
- Do we need to pivot or change our focus?
- Are there questions? Can we solve them together or do we need someone else to solve them for us?
Informative meetings: these meetings are always about the state of affairs of some action or project within an organization. During these meetings, we’ll hear about:
- Project elements:
- Resources: are we using more or less than was anticipated?
- time frame: is it on time, early or delayed?
- person responsible for carrying it out: changes in leadership, additions to the team, etc.
- If the goal or purpose cannot be fully defined, then a deliberative meeting has to be held to determine it.
This sums up much of what I encounter during meetings but I’m sure this checklist will continue to evolve as I gain experience and participate in other kinds of projects. I’m also aware that I’ve excluded certain key ideas about participating in meetings: knowing my role during a conversation, when to address uncomfortable ideas or conversations, how to help the meeting reach its purpose when its been derailed, etc. But I think that for many of these questions there already are excellent frameworks. In another post, I’ll include some resources you can use to learn about these questions. As always, I appreciate your feedback and hope to continue to grow.