Episode 10: Designing Effective Meetings
Principal and Creative Director, Studiolo Secondari
Nicole Tomassi ( 00:06 ):
Welcome to Westchester words, education ed tech and publishing I'm Nicole Tomassi. In this episode, I'll be speaking with Linda Secondari, who is principal and creative director of Studiolo Secondari about how you can free up time in your Workday by making your meetings more effective. For those of you who are familiar with Linda's design work, you may be wondering what does design have to do with meetings? You'll learn how the two have more in common than you might think. Linda, it's a pleasure to welcome you to Westchester words.
Linda Secondari (00:34):
Well, thank you, Nicole. It's a pleasure to be here.
Nicole Tomassi (00:37):
As we mentioned in the intro, there's a link between design and meetings. And I was wondering if you could walk us through what that connection is.
Linda Secondari (00:45):
Yeah. So I understand what you're saying. You know, I was a creative director at Oxford university press for many years. And what does designing books and book covers necessarily have to do with ways of working and organizational design questions? In my time at Oxford, I had a really big staff of 40 plus designers and art directors all over the world in, in Delhi, in Toronto, New York and in Oxford offices. So there was a lot of, you know, design operations that I had to, to manage to ensure that we were being productive and that we were really gelling as a team and kind of reflecting the goals of, of the business and understanding those goals. Universally, I realized that by applying design thinking, which is really the sort of methodology that designers use to create anything from products to, to vehicles, to ad campaigns that by applying that design thinking methodology to these more kind of operational challenges that we actually could get some really great results. And they were very sort of empathetic. They were very user focused because that is really the guiding force of the design thinking methodology
Nicole Tomassi (02:04):
With three plus dozen designers worldwide, you probably had to really be very strategic in the way you conducted your meetings because of the different time zones. And of course, just the deadlines involved, absolutely in the book design and production process.
Linda Secondari (02:19):
Absolutely. I mean, when I began this webinar, a pandemic of meetings, which I'm launching on May 12th, I really had to be very humble with myself and I, I consider myself a recovering meeting scheduler. I mean, there were a lot of meetings. We did have to deal with a lot of challenges between North America, India, and the UK. There was never daylight between all of us. So either people had to come into a meeting you know, on the phone early in the morning or very late at night. I certainly had experiences with the corporate business and being on calls at, you know, five in the morning and you think, oh, I can do that. But you know, your brain really isn't as functional as everybody else who's on the call for whom it's, you know, 10 in the morning. So that definitely informed a lot of my thinking about meetings and the work that I'm trying to offer in this webinar.
Nicole Tomassi (03:27):
I can completely understand what you're saying because Westchester has offices in the UK as well as in India. So trying to manage those time zones and be respectful of people's the life outside of the work hours. Right. It is, it is definitely a struggle. And I think it's probably become a bit more of a challenge over the last two years because there's kind of this always on mentality because, you know, you can hop onto a zoom or a teams meeting or something like that. And there's a bit less of a barrier, which can be a positive, but it can also be a negative cuz people feel like they have to be available at all times.
Linda Secondari (04:04):
Exactly, exactly. I mean meetings before the pandemic were insane. You know, when I was at Oxford, I was often, you know, double or triple booked in meetings all day long. You know, when are you actually supposed to get any work done? The research indicates that during the pandemic meetings have increased by 10%, which is three more meetings per staff member every week. And that's insane, you know, because we were already overwhelmed with our meetings. My goal is to help companies, help individuals sort of tease apart what needs to be a meeting and what doesn't need to be a meeting because meetings are sometimes they're just like the laziest option. Again, I'm a recovering meeting scheduler. And I can say, as a manager with 10 direct reports, it felt easier just to meet with them every week and listen to them, give me an update as opposed to maybe look at the dashboard report or, or read through a slack channel.
Linda Secondari (05:08):
But in hindsight, I realized that that really wasn't the best use of our time that we probably could have eliminated half of those meetings and maybe just met once or twice a month. And the rest of the time I really could have received just a written status update or looked at some sort of a dashboard and understood, but it felt like we needed to have these meetings. It was sort of performative, but it was also lazy when, when you're talking about a disparate team. And I think that's why this is content that's so relevant. Now, you know, whether you are working in house working hybrid or working virtual, we all have meetings. And if we do everything in a meeting, we're really the people who are in your time zone in your proximity and the people who aren't in the time zone and in the proximity are being put to the side.
Linda Secondari (06:04):
I mean, they have a, a bigger hurdle to, to overcome. I have been in so many conference calls where I was maybe one of two people dialing in and everybody else was in the room together. And I remember that it would sound like the ocean's waves when they all were like laughing over something that someone had whispered and that you didn't know what they were saying. And it was so hard to keep track of. And, and one of, you know, the rules of thumb is if you can't have everyone be in the conference room, then everyone really should just be dialing on in from their own laptop, because it, it, it just, the inequity is really very hard to overcome.
Nicole Tomassi (06:50):
Hmm. That's an interesting point. So I, I there's so much to pull apart in there. I wanna start with the piece that with different tools like slack or dashboards, or even, oh, this meeting could have been an email. I think everybody has said that mm-hmm <affirmative>, you know, how do you sit there as the meeting organizer and put together almost like a checklist of does this really need to be a meeting rather than could this be a phone call, a slack, a dashboard, an email, how do you make that determination?
Linda Secondari (07:19):
Well, the first thing you really need to do is you need to do a meeting audit, and I recommend that you look at, you know, a month's worth of meetings, a typical month's worth of meetings. And I think number one, just by looking at them objectively, things will jump out to you. As I said, you know, maybe that, you know, status call doesn't need to be every week. Maybe it can be every other week. But one of the tools that I offer is I've identified that there are basically three different types of meetings. There are decision making meetings, there are information sharing meetings, and then there are collaborative meetings, decision making meetings and collaborative meetings do tend to benefit from real time engagement. Status meetings often can be, as I said, an email, a status report, some sort of a knowledge base that everyone has access to that's updated.
Linda Secondari (08:24):
Then maybe once a month, you need that status meeting as opposed to a weekly or a daily standup decision making meetings often have an information sharing component to them. So typically at a decision making, meeting, there's the prelude where everyone is kind of brought up to speed about the issue that needs to be discussed. And then the discussion about how to proceed happens. I think you could split that meeting in half and you can do that prelude part asynchronously individually, so that people actually have time to think and to read through everything. And then you're really just meeting for the decision making part that exchange where that real time engagement really does benefit the outcome. But when you're looking at, for example, that example that I just gave you that informational portion, not everyone absorbs information in the same way, different personality types are less reactive than others.
Linda Secondari (09:34):
And so you, again, you begin preferencing the people who are more intuitive, who speak out more quickly, who feel more comfortable making decisions on the fly, and then the thoughtful people who you really wanna hear what they have to say. They may not be able to like formulate all of that and kind of fight through the headwaters of all of the like big talkers. So by looking at your meetings and really teasing apart, what kind of activities happen in each meeting, you can begin to see how you can really eliminate a large number of those meetings and abbreviate the meetings that you do need to have.
Nicole Tomassi (10:15):
Does this work better for the types who are more observational, I guess, would be the word they, they take in what, as you called the big talkers will say, along with the information that they have before the meeting and work their way through it, do you find that helps those observational types?
Linda Secondari (10:34):
Yeah. You know, you're sort of, your introverts is sort of like the general term that you would use for that approach. And I think it definitely levels playing field and there's, you know, been so much written recently about how we really need to pay more attention to introverts because they're actually incredibly thoughtful people with very deep Wells of resource to, to share, but we need to allow them the space to engage fully. So I do think, I think everyone can benefit. You know, I'm a very kind of intuitive, quick talker, quick thinker. I benefit from being able to sleep on it. That's never gonna be a bad thing to have the the information gathering or the information download portion, be more private because you know, sometimes you have these meetings at maybe three 30 in the afternoon. I'm spent at three 30 in the afternoon, whereas at eight in the morning, I am like firing on all cylinders. I've just had my coffee. I've, you know, maybe taken a long walk. That's a great time for me to ingest information and think really clearly. Whereas, you know, in the afternoon I'm probably gonna be whiny about it and you know, not look at it with the same kind of opportunity mindset that may be appropriate.
Nicole Tomassi (11:52):
Hmm. That's a good point. And then, you know, I mean, I tend to be a night owl, so it's like, as everybody else is kind of leveling off at that, you know, two, three o'clock, my cylinders are starting to fire better.
Linda Secondari (12:03):
Nicole Tomassi (12:04):
We're recording this at nine you know, almost 10 in the morning and you probably think my cylinders are firing pretty good. <Laugh> catch me about two, three in the afternoon. I am really on a roll. Wow. It's like a, you know, I'm just one of those night owl people who had to adjust to a more daytime kind of schedule. So there's just so many different factors at play. A little bit of a side track off of this whole meeting process and the ways to set up the meetings. I think we've all been in a meeting where somebody takes a point and either just, you know, beats the life out of it or completely veers away from what the discussion items are. That's going to be covered. What is a good way to make good use of everyone's time and make sure that the meeting gets back on track and focused on what that meeting was intended to be
Linda Secondari (12:50):
For. I mean, there's a lot of badly planned meetings happening. I've seen a statistic that something like 60% of all meetings don't have an agenda. And I think that that is a sin <laugh> we all have to understand that when you have a meeting, you are spending money and you are spending time. And someone recently made the point to me that although you can get more money, you can never get more time. So time is really the most precious resource that all of us have. And it doesn't matter whether you have a low salary or a high salary, your, your time is valuable regardless. It is equally valuable to all of us. So an agenda having a really clearly mapped out agenda, I recommend for people who are not, you know, used to running meetings or maybe are of a personality type where they do tend to over talk or go down winding paths to time limit each topic area.
Linda Secondari (13:52):
And as someone who's planned, a lot of meetings, that experience of, you know, these are the things we need to talk about, okay, this is gonna be five minutes. This is gonna be 10 minutes. Oh, we've run out of time. Let me look back at what I said was gonna be five minutes. That really helps you kind of put your head in the meeting. It's very easy to schedule a meeting and to think we're gonna talk about this, this and this, but unless you've actually worked out the logistics, it's kind of like, I think Napoleon said, you know, an army fights on its stomach. If you haven't worked out those logistics, you can't have a successful outcome with the meeting. So first of all, have an agenda. The second thing is you have to be taking minutes or notes. Something has to be transcribed. So that at the end of the meeting, you know, who's doing what, what are the action items that have resulted from this meeting?
Linda Secondari (14:49):
And who's responsible for that. And what's, you know, the time on that delivery, because otherwise you've just wasted this meeting. I mean, I've attended so many meetings that, you know, brilliant things were said, nobody took notes. It ended, we didn't meet again for six weeks. No one remembered what we said in the last meeting. We just kind of had the same meeting over and over and over again because we never moved forward. That's just a waste of resources and, you know, nobody wants to waste resources. So those are the two things that I think are just givens. You have to have an agenda. You have to have minutes with action items. The minutes don't have to be terribly discreet, but they need to generally indicate what was decided and, and what the next steps are. I have a lot of ideas about what makes a productive meeting. And I think it involves getting everyone in included in the meeting, not having that sort of like one person, who's doing all the talking because after about five or 10 minutes of blabbing on people have tuned you out. So really making sure that we're engaging everyone who's in the meeting, giving them some agency authority and also responsibility to deliver some information at the meeting that also keeps people really engaged.
Nicole Tomassi (16:13):
Those sound like really solid ideas. And Linda you're gonna cover this and so much more in that webinar that you're doing on May 12th. Can you share some more details about the webinar and where people can go to register for it?
Linda Secondari (16:26):
Certainly. So it is an event bright registration, and I think we could probably put a link in the materials associated with this podcast. Absolutely. but you can also find information about the webinar on my website, which is Studiolosecondari.com. And we have information there that will link you to the registration page.
Nicole Tomassi (16:56):
This is a webinar that's free of charge, correct?
Linda Secondari (17:00):
It's a free 60 minute webinar called "A Pandemic of Meetings: How to Reduce, Reconsider and Refine the meetings that you have. If you register for it, you'll receive a recording. And we also have a decision map for whether or not you should have a meeting and we'll be giving those away to all the attendees that you can use to figure out whether it's a meeting or an email or whether you need to do some more prep. So
Nicole Tomassi (17:33):
Well, that's really great. I'll definitely be interested in that because like you said, time is a precious and finite resource, no matter who you are. So whatever you can do to make a better use of that time, it's a valuable thing. So I'm really looking forward to consuming that content when it's available. I just have one final question for you, Linda, before we wrap up here, it's something I like to ask each of the guests that comes on the podcast because I've received so many thoughtful responses to it. If there's one piece of advice that you wish someone had given to you when you were starting out in your professional career, or if there's something that you would wanna share with others, in addition to this great information about meetings.
Linda Secondari (18:14):
Wow, that's a really good question. I think the one piece of advice that I wish someone had told me earlier in my professional career, actually, I think it's a few pieces of advice. One is that you don't need to know everything. And then the corollary that you should ask people questions about what you don't know, you know, go to people who seem to have knowledge in an area that you're unfamiliar with and speak with them and hear their, their genius and create a relationship with them and build a network. So building a network through conversation is I think really ultimately the, the most important thing that anyone can do in their career,
Nicole Tomassi (19:03):
That is a wonderful piece of advice. And I think you've shared a lot of excellent information with me today. And with everybody, who's going to be listening to this. So I really appreciate you taking the time out this morning to join me on Westchester words, I will also share with the listeners a little bit of a sneak preview that you will be joining me later on in this season for a couple of more episodes about other design related topics, but in the meantime, get over and register for Linda's webinar. Cuz as you can hear, there's a lot of great advice and information you can take away and incorporate into your workflow so that you're spending less time in meetings and becoming more productive. So go to Linda's website, studiolosecondari.com or you can come to our website and find the registration link there along with the podcast. So again, Linda, thank you so much.
Linda Secondari ( 19:56 ):
Oh it was my pleasure. Thank you so much.
Nicole Tomassi ( 20:03 ):
Thank you for listening to this episode of Westchester words. If you're looking for previous episodes or want to read additional content that has been shared by some of our guests, please visit our websites. Westchester publishing services.com and Westchester education services.com for an international perspective, check out our sister podcast, Westchester words, UK and international available on the Westchester education UK website, Westchestereducation.co.uk or wherever you stream podcasts. We love hearing from our listeners and welcome your emails at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell us what you enjoy hearing on our podcast or suggest topics that we can cover in future episodes. Speaking of future episodes, I look forward to having you join us for the next episode of Westchester words, when we'll be having another engaging conversation about a topic of interest to the education, ed tech and publishing communities. Until then stay safe, be well and stay tuned.