Lisa Solomon: Effective Meetings Choose One of Reaching Understanding, Generating Options, or Making Decisions

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Rules of Thumb, skmurphy, Video

Lisa Solomon says that an effective meeting can do one–and only one–of 3 things: build a common understanding, or generate options or make decisions. In this talk on “Designing Time: Make Meaning” she elaborates on this and challenges the person calling the meeting to work backward from the end of the meeting and define: what has happened as a result of this conversation and what use was delivered to each participant.

What follows is a heavily edited transcript that focuses on the content in from minutes four through nine.

I teach graduate students and executives how to use visual and design thinking how to solve complex problems. Data and spreadsheets are not going to get us where we need to go.

We need to have meaningful conversations that are discovery oriented to get to new insights.

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to get more meaning from meetings.

Design is about usability. When you are sitting in a meeting where it’s all you can do not to pick up your phone and start texting or do “real work” under the table, the meeting has failed you. You have not been set up for success.

We need to think differently about how we design meetings. It’s not about meaning management, that’s the wrong frame. It’s really about designing meaningful conversations.

We need to work backwards from one minute after the end of a meeting and ask ourselves:

  • What has happened as a result of this conversation?
  • What use have we delivered to each participant

There are really only three kinds of meetings:

  1. Building understanding: enabled each participant share relevant information to build a common understanding for clarity.
  2. Shaping choices: explore potential options, choices that are concrete discrete possibilities that we can analyze and test.
  3. Making decisions: only possible after we have a common understanding and clear choices framed.

But too often we take the goal of the meeting to “get to next steps” so we rush through building understanding and shaping choices and try to find our way to making decisions.

Each activity–building understanding, shaping choices, and making decisions–requires a different design.

If someone wants to do all three in one meeting, “just say no.”

That will save hours of your time.

This is Also a  Model of Effective Meetings For Startups

I think this model for three kinds of meetings is very useful for startups. As the team grows it’s very tempting for the founders to try save time by forcing a decision before everyone with relevant information has been heard and a reasonable range of options have been framed. Taking the time for important decisions to follow this three step approach, along with premortems and decision records, will help prevent the “Groundhog Day” effect of revisiting decisions because important information was not factored in or a key option was not considered.

I have Enjoyed Collaborating With Lisa Solomon

I have been fortunate to collaborate with Lisa Solomon on several projects. Most recently she helped me prepare for my “Get Out of Your BatCave” talk May 7, 2013 at Parisoma. She gave me the same advice that she offers in the talk below: what do you want the audience to leave with, what do you want to experience them during the talk. It led me to completely redesign the structure of the presentation to make it a more interactive conversation with the audience for the entire session.

Lisa Solomon is working with Chris Ertel on “Moments of Impact: Designing Strategic Conversations.”  The book, due out in 2014, will offer practical advice on how to design meetings for meaning.

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