'That was a great meeting.' 'You're joking, it was terrible!' It's hard to imagine these two were in the same room at the same time. How can different people's experience of the same meeting be so different? I sometimes get asked for advice on good meetings, how to manage good meetings.
It's an interesting challenge. After all, what constitutes a good meeting is highly contextual. In some cultures, relational aspects take precedence over tasks; in others, tasks take precedence over time. In some organisations, formal, structured meetings are preferred. In others, flexible creativity is the norm.
It partly depends on purpose. 'What are we here to do?' or 'What would a good outcome of this meeting look and feel like?'. It's also partly about timing and situation. In a crisis, a short task driven meeting may be appropriate; in other circumstances, spending time getting to know each other may take priority.
But it's not just cultural differences that are significant. People's preferences are personality driven too. So some people prefer meetings to be highly structured, organised. Others in the same meeting may prefer fluidity, an emergent agenda, a 'let's see what happens' approach.
Some people will insist that a good meeting involves circulating an agenda in advance, having fixed timings against item, ensuring the purpose of each item is clear and agreed (e.g. for information, for discussion, for decision), carefully documenting agreed action points to ensure follow-through.
Others will place greater emphasis on ensuring everyone is heard and understood, creating an environment where everyone can be honest about what they are thinking and feeling, addressing agenda items in a way that inspires passion and engagement, ensuring the content feels meaningful.
So the question becomes, 'In light of what we are here to do, how would we like to do it?' This takes openness and a willingness to negotiate. It's about exploring what's possible, what will enable different people to engage and contribute their best, what will ensure the meeting achieves its goal.
Nick Wright is a coach and consultant, specialising in reflective practice.