A week and a half ago I wrote here about my most important concepts for managing meetings. I got many comments on this post, many of them offering other important concepts and some disagreeing with some of the concepts I mentioned. One of the disagreements that kept coming up dealt with my concept about coming prepared.
This is what I wrote:
Everybody must come prepared. And when I say prepared I mean totally and utterly prepared. When you get to the meeting you already: read everything; made the preparations; calculated the numbers; came up with your own ideas. I spent so many meetings where people come unprepared and as a consequence half of the meeting is spent on just understanding the issue or on doing things that should have been done earlier without wasting everybody else’s time. Too many people believe that they perform the best under pressure and rationalize their way into procrastination. This trend extends itself into the meetings and people say to themselves – “hey, I learn the subject while the meeting takes place”.
Here are some of the comments about this point:
Everyone needs to be prepared. However, avoid over preparation if you want to be innovative. If you want to build ideas as a group, you don’t want to have people come with their ideas nailed down.
Too much preparation can be a downside, leading to people coming in with pre-conceived ideas and already solved problems. Basic preparation is a must though, to understand the key facts etc. but I’ve found too much preparation can hold back a discussion.
While I respect the people who commented on this point, I have to strongly disagree with them.
First, I think the comments confuse between communication skills and preparation. One can come totally unprepared, but still be closed to other people’s opinions. On the other hand, somebody can come with his own ideas and solutions, but be open, receptive and listen to other people. The fact that some people come prepared and are not willing to listen does not mean that coming prepared is the problem (causality). It means that their lack of communication skills and ability to listen is probably the problem. I think one of comments actually described it quite well:
… but I think there is a thin line between coming prepared for a meeting and coming with THE solution. I think it’s very important to be open to new ideas and avoid selling your solution. The attitude that you have when you go to a meeting is crucial.
The issue is the attitude and not the preparation which is positive.
And this brings on the second point. Part of the problem occurs when only one person comes to the meeting prepared. The others, who are not prepared are not able to contradict that person so he seems like he is not listening to them and they are also not able to point mistakes or to create a positive influence on his idea. Everybody loses.
Third, most of the comments also talked about wasting time in meetings and the fact that we have to many meetings. If people come unprepared, everybody’s time is wasted because people have different abilities and speed of understanding. I honestly don’t see the negative connection between preparation and being innovative. On the contrary, the fact that everybody has come prepared only allows spending more of the time on the actual innovation and allows avoiding things like groupthink.
Fourth, preparation is disregarded in many aspects of our lives, and while I don’t support excessive over perpetration I feel that it should be given its due place. Just recently Jon Gordon wrote a post exactly on this subject:
So often we fail because we fail to prepare. We focus on hitting the ball but we forget to take the time to tie our shoes tight before the game starts
I am going to come prepared to my next meeting. What about you?