Mar 15, 2022

End Boring Meetings by Mastering the 4 Meeting Patterns

End Boring Meetings by Mastering the 4 Meeting Patterns

End Boring Meetings by Mastering the 4 Meeting Patterns

Nathan King

Meetings in a corporate setting consume huge swaths of your time. If you’ve been in a company for any period of time, you’ve no doubt noticed that there is a pretty low standard for how effectively time is spent in them. We meet too often. It is unclear why we are meeting.

People disengage in the meetings they attend. They nod along as speakers give their perspective, seemingly in agreement, but they attend to unrelated work on their laptops that holds more importance.

With so little expected from the value of meetings, it would be easy to lower yourself to the same low standard and put in virtually no effort to leading meetings. Why waste time preparing when no one else does?

Think instead of the long game, the overarching career journey you are on. Your reputation and your results depend on how you show up. Meetings are unavoidable, essential even, to life inside of a company. If you use meetings to your advantage, they are an easy way to differentiate yourself at work and demonstrate true leadership.

Meetings will never go away. Humans are social creatures, and even if we must meet imperfectly, we do so as if driven by an unseen force. Meetings are an event as necessary to an organization as protein is to an organism. Use them to your advantage.

Fortunately, meetings fall into four simple patterns, first described (as far as I know) in a 1976 essay called How to Run a Meeting. The key to using meetings to your advantage is understanding the meeting pattern required for the discussion you need to have. Each pattern benefits from basic best practices that anyone can use to run meetings in a way that ensures every attendee gets value.

The Four Meeting Patterns

Pattern 1: Let's-Put-Our-Heads-Together Meeting

This meeting is suitable for a small group – leaders in a division, a cross functional group, or a departmental team. The meeting seeks to answer the question: “What should we do?”

An example of this type of meeting is to brainstorm solutions to a problem or the possibilities for a plan.

For example, a common discipline for a leadership team is to determine priorities for the next calendar quarter. This involves a leadership team gathering to contribute ideas, possibilities, and problems facing the business, discuss and debate pros and cons, and agree on what's most important.

The key driver to success in this type of meeting is for the meeting leader to make clear that input from attendees is necessary for the meeting to succeed. The meeting leader should be ready to ask direct questions from others about their point of view, and to elicit responses from others when they speak.

Pattern 2: Execution Commitment Meeting

In this type of meeting, participants define the following:

1. What outcomes will be achieved

2. When they will be completed

3. Who is going accomplish them

Multiple perspectives are valuable in this effort because it allows for the team to expose each other’s blind spots: for instance, if someone believes a task can be accomplished in a week, others may point out the potential risks to that and clarify actions.

This meeting succeeds when everyone understands the answers to these three questions.

Pattern 3: The Information Banquet Meeting

In this type of meeting, a group digests information together. The social requirements of being human really come to the forefront here.

This meeting type is often complained about as so much "blah blah blah."

When facilitated well, it can be an excellent source of organizational learning. An example of this meeting is to review financial results for the prior month or quarter. Yes, information can be read and consumed by an individual, but when done together it can spot needed actions that aren't on people's radar, cause participants to better understand the context of executive decisions, which in turns reduces political back-channeling.

To succeed at leading this meeting, think of story. Demonstrate the information by describing what happened, what situation the organization was facing, what was done, why it was done, the results, and the open questions.

Again, this meeting type is so often mishandled that people will think they may need to check out to avoid being bored. To help keep people engaged, prepare to ask them questions as you go.

Pattern 4: The Rules of the Road Meeting

This meeting category communicates change and gives people opportunity to know about important initiatives, new policies, and the reason for each.  

As an example, when a company defines a new PTO policy, the best approach is to have individuals comes together as a group to hear those in seniority explain the change. It implicitly says that leadership values relationship in addition to rules and allows people the opportunity to ask questions and understand the rationale.

What to Do with These Meeting Patterns

When meeting leaders haven't thought through what type of meeting they are trying to accomplish, the above meeting types get mixed together, which causes meetings to run unbearably long, or to be difficult to understand. The outcome is that attendees don’t know how to contribute, so it doesn’t use their time well.

When you prepare for each meeting according to its pattern, your attendees will thank you – they will notice that you respected their time and brought a group of people towards better clarity and alignment.

Here’s how to put this in practice:

  1. Ask yourself the questions: based on the topic I need input on/what I want to share, which pattern does it fit? What outcome do I need to achieve with the topic?

  2. In advance of the meeting, send the answers to those questions to the attendees, either when scheduling the meeting or in the meeting invitation itself when setting it up.

  3. At the beginning of the meeting, tell everyone what you are there to accomplish.

Meetings give you an easy way to build your reputation. A meeting is where you are seen; people notice how you conduct yourself. Become an expert of these meeting patterns and you will see great results.




I help leaders and teams achieve clarity and alignment so they can reach their potential


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