Meeting smoosh: what it is, why it’s bad and how to avoid it.

Some things are great on their own, but smoosh them together and it turns into a grim combination.

For instance, take the robust flavours of a spicy beef chili and the delicate sweetness of vanilla ice cream. Both are great as separate dishes. But combining them into one might result in a clash of tastes that’s better left unexplored.

It’s the same with meetings. Different types of meetings serve a purpose (as long as they’re run well). But too often, we mash together different types of meetings and then wonder why it leaves a sour taste in everyone’s mouths.

Here are some examples of meeting smoosh:

  • The weekly WIP that slides into a discussion on a strategic issue.
  • The one-on-one that turns into transactional updates instead of remaining on the relational conversations that strengthen the relationship and the reflections on performance and engagement that this time is intended for.
  • The strategy session where brainstorming and creative problem solving are required, but the discussion ends up descending into transactional and operational territory.

So how can you avoid the meeting mashup and keep your meetings clear, separate, and effective?

Here are three tips:

  1. First, get your meeting purpose and cadence in order.

Get clear about your meeting cadence. Patrick Lencioni from The Table Group is very instructional on the four types of meetings you should have (check his perspective out here). This prescriptive approach might not suit your environment, but it gives you a start.

Consider for your team or organisation:

  • What type of meetings do we need and what is the clear purpose of each?
  • Who needs to be there and, more importantly, who doesn’t?
  • Given the purpose of each, how long should they be and how often do we need them?
  • Do we even need a meeting for this particular thing at all?

Design your meeting agendas around your answers to these questions.  

  1. Get better at meeting facilitation

See this blog post for some tips about how to better facilitate meetings.

If the meeting starts to wander into smoosh territory, gently bring the conversation back on track. Or offer to park a particular topic for the time being and have a discussion about it at another time. Extra bonus points if you can avoid cringey corporate jargon like “let’s take this offline”.

At the very least, pause the conversation, raise awareness that the discussion may be going off-track from the agreed agenda, and ask participants whether they want to spend the time continuing the conversation (acknowledging that this might mean not covering other agreed agenda items) or return to what was planned.

  1. Do regular retros on meeting cadence

At least once or twice a year, collectively review your meetings and check in on whether they are still fit for purpose. Do an audit for meeting smoosh and consider whether there are times that you’re trying to cover too much, or instances where you keep having too many interim conversations that could be consolidated into a short meeting with clear outcomes.

It’s no secret that we spend a lot of our week in meetings – some reports suggest that they take up over 23 hours of our working week! So, while no doubt some of our meetings are necessary, many could be far better defined and contained. It’s tempting to jump around when you’re together and you’ve got lots of ground to cover – that whole ‘just while I’ve got you…’ conversation creep. Yet looking out for and minimising meeting smoosh is a sure-fire way to streamline your meeting rhythms.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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