Beware Corporate Jabberwocky

Ever hear the term jabberwocky?  It might go something like this.  “I’ve been in this meeting close to an hour! It was supposed to last just 30 minutes. Yeah, right. Why am I even here? Didn’t we go over this stuff before? Will somebody please tell him to go into those details offline? I feel like I’m stuck in some sort of Time Loop. Maybe I shouldn’t have had that triple bacon lardburger for lunch. Hard enough to focus without the droning on and on annndddzzzzzzzzzzzz….`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….

“Excuse me? (Omigosh, they’re calling on me now) Right. Yeah, just let me check my notes here….”

The worst thing that can happen on a normal day is that you’ve wasted valuable time – or embarrassed yourself by being lulled to sleep and dreaming about that class in Freshman English. But in an emergency, poor meeting preparation and lax meeting management can mean delayed decisions and slow response, with far worse consequences for the people depending on you.

So how can we make sure that we use meetings and conference calls effectively, particularly during emergency events? Let’s break it down into four key steps.

Number 1 – The All-Important Purpose

Identify the purpose of the call or meeting. The best way to think about a meeting’s purpose is to start with the ending. Imagine that the meeting is over and you and everyone in it felt really good about what just happened. Well then, what happened? Did you assess a problem? Did you get the input you needed to make a decision? Was it all about getting consensus? Or was it all about sharing information? Whatever the case, have a vision and design your meeting around it.

Number 2 – The Format and Stakeholders

Once you are clear about what the objective is, you can determine if a meeting or conference call is the right format and who needs to be involved. If the same information is available in a commonly used system (OMS, work management, etc.) or could be covered in a memo, email or brief report, then – this is important – don’t meet.

There is a fine line between being inclusive and overkill. If internal communications processes are not strong, many people will want to be included on the calls or in the meetings so that they are kept abreast of information that is important to them in doing their job. So think carefully about whom you need as meeting participants and who can be better served through other informational media.

Number 3 – The Mighty Agenda

If you’ve ever attended a crummy meeting without seeing at least some kind of agenda in advance, you got what you deserved. And if you ever call or try to hold a meeting without sending an agenda in advance, you risk committing corporate jabberwocky (look it up in Wikipedia).

The best agendas follow a matrix format:

Real Time   Time  Topic                                              Process Chair/ Participants
8:00             0:05   Damage Assessment Reports    Incident Commander/ Ops Mgr

8:05             1:30   What’s For Lunch?                        Brainstorm CEO / All

The agenda should answer key questions: Who will run the meeting or call? How much time will be spent on a topic before it’s time to move on? Outside of the matrix, agendas should include information about subsequent meetings, who will take the minutes, and how soon the minutes and other documents will be distributed afterwards.

Make sure everyone knows what is expected of them and is prepared. Get approval of the agenda at the outset and allow your meeting participants to suggest revisions if needed. Stick to the “Time Allotted” for each Topic or ask permission to expand time if more discussion is needed. Don’t try to work the issues at the meeting or on the call – assign follow-up activities. Keep issues that don’t impact all the participants to the end or work them offline. Everyone else needs to get back to work.

Pick a frequency of calls or meetings that makes sense for your organization. Holding restoration or incident status conference calls every two hours is overkill. Think of all the preparatory work that goes into the reports that you expect for people – you don’t want your personnel spending all their time preparing the data needed for the next conference call or meeting – they also need time to focus on their key tasks.

Number 4 – The Critical Follow-Up

OK, you had the meeting or conference call – what now? Don’t finish any discussion in the meeting without deciding how to act on it. Prepare and distribute minutes to avoid rehashing information in subsequent meetings. If you want everyone to be on the same operational page, you need to document what was discussed and who needs to do what, by when. Then follow-up to make sure what should happen really happens. The next conference call or meeting should include a quick review of the action items and their status.

Sound like an awful lot of planning? It should be. Meetings – even conference calls – are expensive undertakings when you consider the paygrades and time involved for all the participants. Good meeting planners spend at least as much time planning a meeting as they do holding it.

Key Tip: How NOT to be a Corporate Jabberwocky

So here’s a suggestion: Maybe it would be good standard practice to begin every meeting or conference call by reminding everyone that restoration is about keeping our customers, our coworkers, our neighbors, our friends and our families safe and well-served. And that by managing our internal meetings better, we can provide better safety and better service.  And no corporate jabberwocky.

“At most meetings, they keep minutes but lose hours.”
(Variation on a quote by Milton Berle)

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