I’ve sat through a lot of meetings over the past few years; I found myself spending more time in a conference room rather than at my desk.  I would carry my little green notebook and scribble down the action items, guidance, and dates of importance. 

Beyond getting the tasks and important upcoming dates, the commander’s guidance was the most important piece of each meeting.  I learned why we did certain things, why it was important to the greater plan, and why I needed <insert task> done.  Learning the boss’s perspective and guidance cleared up things that I didn’t understand as a young NCO.

Arriving back at the office, tasks and dates would be distributed to the appropriate person through various one on one or small team drive by taskings, dates would be emailed, and the team went on with their work-day.  Now that the work from the meeting is going on, the team doesn’t have the why, just the what.

Later, the why would be relayed to the team in, yes, another meeting.  It is important to use the time with the team to explain why their part of the mission was important, where it made a difference at, and why we were doing the things we were tasked with. The reason this is done later, instead of with the tasks, is to save time and have 1 discussion instead of 40 individual conversations.

Simon Sinek’s Start with Why is a great read and explains the importance of giving subordinates the why and how it motivates them. But even with understanding why I need to know the guidance and how we fit in, isn’t enough.  Someone needs to tell me, so if you need me, I’ll probably be in a meeting.

In order to make it through meetings, I’ve used these techniques:

  • Get there earlier so you start on time.
    • Find the coolest place in the room to sit.
    • Avoid being crammed in the corner, next to the equipment. It can be a distractor.
  • Be a part of the meeting, not just being present.
  • Active listening is crucial to understanding the message.  This includes body language.  Make eye contact with the speaker, even as it goes around the room.  Take notes and if a question comes from the dialogue, don’t be afraid to ask. The old saying goes, if you have a question about something, someone in the room probably does too.  
    • Ask questions when things are unclear.
    • Questions about acronyms should be asked immediately, politely ask the speaker to break it out.
  • Bring the water bottle.
  • Be brief when presenting.
  • Practice courtesy and save sidebars for after unless it is necessary for the discussion.
  • If you are leading the meeting, share the agenda early so everyone is prepared and knows what to expect, including how long it should last.

Make it happen.