In the last two or three weeks, I have been involved in focus groups for two different projects. In fact, I was in opposite roles for each group. First, I helped develop a presentation by the Diretcor for a focus group for a coming Capital Campaign. Sadly, they came to me a week before the presentation was scheduled and when I asked what the outline/goal/theme/intent/purpose (you know, the actual “stuff”), they just shrugged. So the process was one of me getting everyone to understand that a presentation, espeically one to a focus group, where you have actual questions to ask them (or at least that was the idea). One would think that it would be an obvious thing, but the rules, as always, don’t really apply here.Then, a week later, I was on the pointed end of a focus group, specifically one about a proposed new web site. I think there were maybe 8-10 people in the room, but half of them never said more than a few sentances. I’m not sure why they were there other than for political purposes (“We invited them so they could play a part… if they wanted to,” it seemed to say). While the second focus group seemed to get somewhere in a hurry, it was because three people mapped out in a few minutes what should be done, why it should be done, and then spent most of the next two hours explaining to the rest of the group that it was the right answer. Is it common for the tech people to hijack the meeting in order to sort out the issues while the other stand by and watch? (Yes, I was one of the geeks who ran away with the meeting.)

It just seems clearer than ever now that the preperation for meetings is more important that what happens at meetings. There’s been a lot of talk lately about meetings and how they are evil and suck your time and how they are filled with useless blather. And they are mostly right. Meetings beget meetings like spam in your inbox. And most of them take all the time alloted to them (whether they need to or not), and just serve the person in the room who doesn’t seem to have anything to do but hear themselves talk.

When I first got here, a lot of people commented on how fast my meetings were. I think I’ve slipped lately (as the projects I run involve mroe and more people) and I’m in danger of becoming what I hate — a guy who lives in meetings.

I’m trying to put up systemic forces to keep that from happening. For example, we have a meeting that could meet every week and have ten people (nightmare!). But I set up the system to have two groups: the five core members and a rotating set from the other five. Meetings never have more than 7 people in them, and the people I trust most are in the majority of the meetings.

If only my boss’s boss could do the same for divisional meetings…