321: Making Meetings Meaningful with Mamie Kanfer Stewart

By July 16, 2018Podcasts

 

 

Mamie Stewart shares her expertise in planning (and declining!) meetings, substitutes to the traditional meetings, and making meetings more beneficial and productive for everyone.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to decline a meeting so well, that they may just thank you for doing so
  2. Ideal alternatives to meetings
  3. Best practices for achieving your expected outcome in meetings

About Mamie

Mamie Kanfer Stewart is the author of Momentum: Creating Effective, Engaging, and Enjoyable Meetings. Her company, Meeteor, helps teams and organizations build healthy meeting culture. As a coach, speaker, writer, and trainer, Mamie has helped thousands of people improve their meetings and how they collaborate. Mamie has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Fast Company. She is a regular contributor on The Price of Business and is the host of The Modern Manager podcast.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Mamie Stewart Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Mamie, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Mamie Stewart

Thank you so much for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I want to hear first and foremost about, you do piano sing-alongs on a regular basis. What is the story here?

Mamie Stewart

Yeah, I love piano sing-alongs. I grew up playing piano, and I kind of played on and off, but in total probably about 13 years of lessons. But I never quite got into classical music, and even jazz wasn’t quite the thing for me, although I studied both for many years. And then about 10 years ago we were on a family business trip and we were in a bar, and one of our customers was playing the piano and everyone was singing along. And I was just watching the scene – I was in my mid 20s at the time – and I was like, “I want to be that person at the piano. I want to create this environment for other people. That looks like so much fun.”
So, I went home from that trip and I started playing again, and I play using guitar chords. So I use lyrics with guitar chords and I can figure out the melody in my right hand – I took enough lessons that the piano’s a really intuitive instrument for me. And now I basically only play pop songs and the whole family gets together. And we do it for parties, we’ll do it just hanging around the house with my kids and my cousins and my nieces and nephews. And we just went on another family business trip a couple of weeks ago and we did it on the business trip. And it was really fun watching my dad, because he was so proud of me. And it was really fun to be there with all of our customers again and I was actually that person at the piano, making the music happen.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, that’s great. It just sounds so wholesome, in terms of family fun, as opposed to everyone’s on their iPad, zoning out in their own little worlds.

Mamie Stewart

Yeah, it’s really incredible when people come together like that. And I used to hate the piano because it felt like such as solo instrument to me. It’s always tucked in the corner and you can’t take it with you and sit around a bonfire. And so for a long time I didn’t like it as the instrument that I was good at. And I really wanted to learn guitar, which I since have, but actually play a lot more piano than guitar, because the power of the piano to bring people together to sing like that is just amazing. And it’s so fun when everybody’s crowded around and leaning over my shoulder and screaming out what songs they want next. It’s a lot of fun, and fun for all ages.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, it sounds like an effective meeting, if I may. How’s that for a segway?

Mamie Stewart

Nice.

Pete Mockaitis

So you’ve got a company Meeteor – clever name, like meteor with two Es before the first E. So, what’s it all about?

Mamie Stewart

So, Meeteor is all about meetings, obviously. And we used to be a technology company, and now we are more of a training and coaching and consulting company. So, we focus primarily on helping organizations and teams build effective meeting practices. And we do that by offering trainings and courses and workshops, and through coaching. So we work with a lot of teams to help them think about their collaboration practices from a broader perspective, of which meetings is one of them. But then really thinking about, what are the kinds of meetings that you’re having and how do you implement those effective meeting practices?

Pete Mockaitis

Excellent, thank you. Okay, so I want to touch on that point right there. You said you were a technology company and so you were doing software. Now you’re not. So maybe we could just quickly hit that point. What’s your take on the pros, cons, limitations of, and what’s available when it comes to meeting apps?

Mamie Stewart

So, I love technology. I’m not a technologist, I don’t know how to code. I tried it once and it was not for me. But I really believe in the power of technology to help us do our best work. And when it comes to meetings, when you have to plan an agenda, and you need to take notes, and you want that information to be available in lots of different places to all the different stakeholders that need to be informed of meetings’ outcomes, technology is wonderful. So, it can simplify and streamline your process, do wonderful things.
And there are quite a few good meeting apps that exist right now. So, a couple of them, if people are interested – BeNote is a great one, Instant Agenda, Lucid Meetings, Wisembly Jam. There’s a whole bunch out there and they’re all different. They all have a unique kind of perspective. Some of them feel a bit more corporate, some of them feel a little bit more cool and hip, some of them have more structure where they help you build an agenda using the different buckets that you need to think through, some of them are more free-flow. So they’re kind of all over the place, but it’s really about what you need to integrate with your own technology and what you need as a meeting planner or participant to get the most out of your meetings.

Pete Mockaitis

Right. I was just imagining – and this maybe exists, so you tell me – that it would be interesting in a meeting… Because I’ve been there – it’s just like, “This particular content is not at all relevant to me in any way, shape or form.” And so in a way it’s as though this segment of the meeting I could just not be at. And so I thought it would be interesting if there was maybe a live slider on an app that you could just move from 0% to 100%, like, “This is relevant and I’m into this” versus, “Not at all.” And so I guess you’d need to maybe have that in a dedicated device or something, not full of other distractions, which would cause its own set of problems. But tell me, Mamie, does that exist?

Mamie Stewart

Not that I know of, although I’m wondering if the reason it doesn’t exist is because everybody would always be on, “This isn’t relevant for me.”

Pete Mockaitis

Well, but I think that’s valuable information, especially if you’re taking seriously the cost of your meetings and saying, “Oh, okay. Duly noted. Let’s have fewer people in these meetings.” So yeah, I guess they don’t want to hear the hard truth: “I’m a boring presenter and / or I have convened a meeting that is wasting everybody’s time.”

Mamie Stewart

Yeah, and unfortunately that’s often how we see it – it’s never my meeting that’s the terrible one; it’s the meeting I have to go to that’s so bad. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

There we go. Look in the mirror.

Mamie Stewart

Exactly. It’s the reason we work with teams, because it’s really everybody’s responsibility to have an effective meeting. So if you go to a meeting that you shouldn’t be at, that’s on you too. It’s not just, “Oh well, I was invited to a meeting. I have to show up.” And if you’re planning a meeting, you’ve got to be on it too. You’ve got to be thinking a lot about who are the right people. And there are many practices. I know this isn’t rocket science, but there are clear steps you can walk through to figure out, is a meeting the right next step, and who should be there?

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, now your book Momentum covers a number of these principles. Maybe first and foremost we’ll set a little bit of the “Why” or the stage, in terms of, to what extent are poor meetings just terribly destructive and sabotaging companies’ and organizations’ efficiencies? My hunch is, the answer’s “A lot”, but if you could maybe contextualize that and see, is it just a little bit a lot, or a lot a lot a lot?

Mamie Stewart

Well, the problems with meetings are quite vast and really varied. So, they are costing people their energy, right? Everybody has been to a meeting and you walk out of it and you’re feeling so drained and frustrated. It was a waste of time. You have so many other things to do, now you’re going to have to work late. That is a real cost on people, and it’s a cost for the company.
And we can’t always quantify that but I’d say it’s a cost in lost productivity, and it’s definitely a cost in engagement, which companies are thinking a lot about: “How do we increase employee engagement?” And the number of engagement right now is very low. It’s something in the 20% or 30% of employees who report being engaged at work. And when you’re going to 5, 10, 20, 30 meetings a week, that has a big impact on how you feel about the company and the work that you’re doing. So that’s one form.
Another form is around the finances. So if you’re thinking about it from the value that you’re paying your people to be there – if you have a 5-person meeting and each person is being paid $50 an hour – that’s a $250 meeting. And most of us don’t think about meetings that way, but every hour you spend, it’s not just one hour. It’s actually five man hours if there are five people. And that can trickle down to the bottom line and it can be quantified in finance. And there are some online tools – if you just search “cost of meetings”, you’ll find different calculators to help you figure out how much are meetings actually costing you financially.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes. And I guess owning my own business I think about every hour of myself in this way. And so, if I’m in a terrible meeting, I try to be a nice guy, but I feel it – it’s like, “You are stealing money from me right now.” [laugh] In terms of, there are so many value-creating things I could be doing in these minutes, other than this. And so, I don’t know, I’ve yet to just exit, abort mission, like ejector seat, “I’m out of here.” But maybe that’s the right answer. So tell us a little bit of that, when it comes to, you say there are a number of tools when it comes to determining who should be at the meeting and should you be at the meeting. To begin with maybe, is the meeting even the appropriate choice for what we’re trying to accomplish here?

Mamie Stewart

Alright, so we’ll start at the beginning. So, if you’re planning a meeting, the first thing you want to do is figure out the desired outcome for that meeting. And we call it “desired outcome” because it really is the outcome or the result that the meeting is going to achieve, not the activity the meeting is going to be doing. So we often think about meetings by asking ourselves the question, “Why are we having this meeting?” And it’s kind of natural to answer, “To discuss, to brainstorm, to consider, to problem-solve.”
And those are all wonderful things to do in the meeting, but they’re not outcomes. So at the end of the meeting, if you ask yourself, “Did we achieve our brainstorm? Did we achieve some problem-solving? – yeah, you could say that we had a great discussion and yeah, we dug in and we thought about solutions and we problem-solved, but that doesn’t tell you if it was a productive meeting. It doesn’t actually tell you what the meeting achieved, and whether or not that helped move work forward. So, we focus on a desired outcome and we ask the question, “At the end of this meeting, what will you have achieved? What will be there?”
It’ll be something like a list of potential ideas for further investigation, or a decision that’s made and agreed upon, or a plan for the next three months with clear metrics for success, or alignment on this complicated information that we need to have a shared agreement on how to move forward. It can be written in millions of different ways, depending on what the meeting needs to accomplish, but you’re focusing on that outcome.

Pete Mockaitis

I think my least favorite outcome that I’ve heard for a meeting is, “To just kind of see where we’re at.” And I suppose maybe there’s a kernel of something that’s workable into a valid outcome there, in terms of, like you said – we truly do need to have an understanding of who is doing what and where it stands, in order to come up with, I guess, the true outcome would be, the plan going forward, or an elimination of redundant efforts, would be the success for that meeting.

Mamie Stewart

Yes, and that does happen on occasion. We say meetings that are about sharing information usually aren’t meant to be meetings. So there are lots of different ways and alternatives to meetings, so we can talk about those for a minute. You can send an email if it’s just, “Here’s some information you all need to know. Here’s an email that explains it.”
If you need people’s input on something but you don’t actually need them to interact together, you can write up a memo or have a shared document of some sort, put it online and ask for people to give input. And they can leave comments and edits and ask questions, but they can do it on their own time and you don’t have to bring them together in a room to do that.
You can also use chatting tools or other different forums, and even an alternative to a group meeting is lots of small one-on-one meetings. So, instead of me bringing five people together and taking an hour for the six of us to meet, I could go around and have a one-on-one with each of those people and spend 10 minutes with five people. I’m still spending 50 minutes of my time, but they’re only dedicating 10 minutes to me.
So I’ve saved them 50 minutes, because I went one-on-one, because I didn’t really need them all to be in the room together. I just needed to get their input on something. And it was maybe too complicated to send in a document, or maybe it’s too important and I really want to make sure that they understand what it is I’m sending and I want to talk to them face-to-face. So there are lots of ways to communicate besides meetings.

Pete Mockaitis

So I love that – those many alternatives to meetings. Another one I’m thinking about is just a survey, in terms of, “I need your input.” Maybe you’re commenting on the document or maybe you’re just filling out a survey with SurveyMonkey or Google Forms or Typeform, which I think is so cool. These are handy ways to collect that.
But what really blew my mind there is that one-on-one approach. Not only mathematically is that saving huge cost, in terms of everyone together versus one at a time, but it’s also in many circumstances likely to improve the input that you’re collecting, because people are not sort of censoring themselves like, “Uh-oh, I don’t want to offend these other four people in the room by stepping on their toes or making them think that I thought that their work was lame or that I’m questioning their judgement or their smarts”, or whatever. So you could not only save time, but even get superior input and build better relationships all in one fell swoop by having multiple one-on-one meetings versus the longer group meeting. That’s huge.

Mamie Stewart

Absolutely. Many times it’s even easier to schedule, because finding an hour for everyone to overlap can be really hard, but finding 10 minutes with each person, especially if you’re using a tool like Mixmax or Calendly or a couple of other scheduling tools, where you just send them your link and they grab 10 or 15 minutes on your calendar – it is so much easier to get those 10 or 15 minutes with people individually than trying to find an hour where you all overlap.

Pete Mockaitis

I love it. So then, we talked about when a meeting is appropriate and the alternatives to the meeting to achieve those aims. I’d love to get your take, if we’re on the receiving end of a meeting request and you’re having a heck of a time seeing how that is helpful for you to be there, or even it’s maybe slightly helpful but kind of way down low on your priority list, compared to the other, much more compelling things for adding value for the organization or achieving the key goals, etcetera. How do you do that dance in which you are declining a meeting, particularly if it comes from someone with higher power or authority or title in the organization? It seems like it may not be the right answer to say, “Nah, I’m out.” [laugh]

Mamie Stewart

I wish we could do that, but no, most of us can’t do that. There are there a bunch of different ways you can approach it. So first is, if you don’t know what the meeting is about and what the meeting is meant to achieve or why you were asked to be there, you should absolutely ask.
And it is totally okay to say, “I would really like to make sure that I’m prepared for this meeting. I’m not 100% sure what I can do to be ready, or what value, or why you’ve asked me to attend, or what perspective you want me to bring. I really want to be ready for this meeting. Can you tell me what the meeting is going to achieve, so that I can make sure I have all the information ahead of time or anything else I need to be prepared for?” So basically making yourself look like a wonderful employees who’s saying, “I want to make sure that this is a good use of your time as the meeting leader. What can I do to prepare? Can you give me more information about this meeting?” So that’s one approach.
On the same token you can also offer, “This is my understanding of what this meeting is about. Am I understanding this correctly?” So, “It’s my understanding that this meeting is going to be planning for the next quarter and making some decisions about budget allocation. Is that correct? And if yes, is there anything I need to be doing to prepare for that?” So if you want to offer something up, you can say, “Here’s an idea of what this meeting might be about. Is that correct?” So that’s one way.
If you’re not comfortable going directly to the meeting leader for any reason, especially if it’s not your boss – if it’s maybe from a different department or another colleague and you just don’t feel like they’re going to be receptive to that – if you can go to your manager… And again, even if it is the manager’s meeting, you can still go to them with this perspective, which is, “I was invited to this meeting and I have these other priorities that I know are really important to the team or the organization. Can you help me prioritize here? I’m not sure what is most important. Do you really need me to be in this meeting or do you think that this meeting is important, or can you talk to the meeting leader because I’m really trying to balance all these things and I don’t want to drop any balls?”
So again, now you’re asking for help from your manager, but you’re saying, “I want to do this all. It’s not that I’m trying to get out of work; it’s that I want to keep the quality of work high. I want to make sure that my priorities are aligned with the team of the organization’s priorities as well.”

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, that’s great. You say, “Hey, what’s the goal? How can we be prepared? What can I do to be in great shape for this?”

Mamie Stewart

I have yet to have anyone come back and tell me that it didn’t work. I think most of the experiences I’ve had is hearing from people saying, “Once I came and I asked and I said, ‘What is this meeting all about?’, most managers who are calling meetings, or most meeting leaders actually know what they want to accomplish.
It’s already in their head; it’s why they called the meeting. It’s just that they didn’t communicate it. So it’s not that they are being thoughtless and like, “Oh, let’s just have a meeting for the sake of it.” They have something in their head they want to do. They just haven’t explained it or put it in writing or told anybody else. So, they’re most likely going to come back and say, “This meeting we’re going to talk about this customer and our strategy for how to handle them.” And then you can have another conversation.
If you realize if you’re thinking, “I don’t know that I need to be in this conversation”, that’s a different conversation, because you can say, “Now I know what this meeting is about and I’m not 100% sure that you need me for this meeting. I have a lot on my plate. Is there something I can provide ahead of time, any information I can share ahead of time about this client?”, or whatever the meeting’s about. And you can also let them know, “If I don’t attend, I am aligned with whatever outcomes you guys decide on and I accept any tasks that you allocate to me.” Now you have to be willing to go with that if you’re going to say it, but you’re basically trying to get out of the meeting by saying, “I’m willing to go with the group and I’m willing to take on responsibility for whatever decisions are made.”

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, that’s a nice one. I like it. Okay, so then I’m wondering about large meetings, in terms of the whole department or the whole company or the whole team, in terms of, I think some folks have some bad habits when it comes to enjoying having everybody around when it may not particularly be value-added. Sometimes I think there’s some sort of emotional, familial dimensions to the game. What are your thoughts on those?

Mamie Stewart

There’s definitely a thing about inviting lots of people to meetings as a way to build relationships, and I’ve seen this multiple times. A lot of teams use their standing weekly meeting or their all-department or all-hands meetings as ways to build relationships and connection with each other and with the company, rather than for whatever said purpose they’re actually trying to achieve. They’ll say, “This is our weekly meeting. We’re going to go over what everybody’s up to” or, “We’re going to report out the numbers.” But really they’re only doing that because they’re subconsciously trying to create a sense of connection between people or between the organization.
And there are wonderful ways to make connection that don’t involve bringing a bunch of people together to sit through really boring report outs. So, I’ve talked to a number of different team who’ve tackled this in different ways. Some of them have started after-work get-togethers, some of them will go on a one-day team building retreat and just have fun, some will do lunch and learns.
I love this one story about a company – they started a book club that was an opt-in. So you didn’t have to read the book, but if you wanted to, you could. But anybody would show up for one lunch every month, and whoever had read however much, and then they just talked about it. And it was a chance for them to talk about something that wasn’t work-related, and get to know people in a different way. And they chose all kinds of books – fiction books, business books, books on the future of work – all kinds of cool stuff. And sometimes only one person had read it and sometimes they all did. But it didn’t matter because it wasn’t about the book; it was just about getting together and enjoying lunch and being humans.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s great. It’s to provide superior alternatives that meet that objective all the better, in a more fun, energizing sort of a way. I dig it. Okay, so enough about getting out of meetings. Let’s say when a meeting is occurring – what are the key steps after you’ve identified the outcome you’re after, to really have some best practices and productive meetings flowing?

Mamie Stewart

Alright, so you’ve identified the desired outcome, and now you want to think about the structure of the meeting and who needs to be there. So, for the structure of the meeting, there are a lot of different flows. What activities are you going to do? How much time do you need to allocate? Are you going to break people into small groups or is it always going to be one big discussion? Are you going to have any pre-material for people to consume so that when they come in they’re ready to jump into the content and you don’t have to spend the first 20 minutes getting them up to speed?
So there’s a whole bunch of things you can do around structuring an agenda that will help you make sure that the meeting achieves the desired outcome. But again, if you don’t know the outcome, you can’t really design an agenda to achieve it. So you’ve got to start with that outcome.
And then in terms of the people, it’s the same thing. If you know what you’re trying to achieve, you can think through, who needs to be in this meeting to get to that outcome? And I’ve heard from multiple people that they’ll have a wonderful conversation and they’ll get to the end of the meeting, and then they realize that the key decision-maker isn’t there. And so then they have to have another meeting with the key decision-maker, in which the key decision-maker asks all the same questions and wants to go through all the same options that the group already discussed. So they basically have to have a repeat of that meeting.
And it’s really unfortunate, because if the meeting leader had been really thoughtful about who needs to be in this meeting to get to that outcome… If you know that the outcome is a decision and not a recommendation, then you want to make sure that you’ve invited the right people. And sometimes you do invite them and they decline – then you need to reschedule. If that key decision-maker says, “I can’t make it to this meeting”, because usually they’re upper management and their schedules change and they get busy – don’t have the meeting without them. It’s okay to have a meeting without some people, and there are other people who are critical who need to be there.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes. I’m thinking back to someone I know who mentioned in his career he had a rule for his meetings attendance, which was that he always insisted that there be a clear outcome and a decision-maker present, and he would walk out of meetings if those two criteria were not met, which is bold. But point well taken, that if that’s your objective, it is impossible to achieve some objectives without certain people there. So yeah, don’t go there if you don’t have the key people in the room.

Mamie Stewart

Yeah. And I’ve actually seen people walk out of meetings before because they’ve realized it’s not a good use of their time. And In some cultures that really will not fly, and in other cultures it’s totally acceptable. Even if it’s never been done before, you have to know the vibe of your people, you have to know the culture of your company and the style of your team. But I’ve seen people say, “This discussion’s really interesting, but I’m realizing it’s not actually very relevant to my work. So if this is the only topic we’re going to cover for the remainder of the meeting, I’d actually just like to get back to my other work, because I don’t really think you need me.”
And teams will be like, “Okay, that sounds fine.” And sometimes they’ll say, “Actually no, there’s another topic. Maybe we should flip the order and talk about that one now, because you need to be here.” And I’ve actually done that in meetings where I’ve looked at the agenda and I’ve said, “The thing they really need me for isn’t till the end of the meeting. So is it okay if I show up halfway through instead of starting at the beginning and sitting through the first half of the agenda that they don’t need me for?”

Pete Mockaitis

That’s good, absolutely. Well, I’d love to get your take then, when you’re in the heat of the meeting, what are some pro tips for keeping that conversation moving toward the outcome that you’re trying to hit?

Mamie Stewart

This has got to be one of the hardest things, is being in a meeting and watching it go off tracks and feeling like there’s nothing I can do about it. We actually just wrote an article about this on our media blog, so you can check it out there. But there are a couple of approaches, and I want to reiterate – this isn’t easy stuff. I was actually just in a meeting with about 20 people; I was not leading it.
And I was watching this debate unfold and it was really souring the energy of the room and it was painful to watch. And I was sending vibes to this one person being like, “Please stop talking. Please stop hammering on this. We really need to move on.” And afterwards I was like, “Oh my gosh, I was totally that person who saw this meeting crashing and I didn’t do anything.” And this is my business; I should be the first one to jump in.
So I want to reiterate – this is not easy stuff, but there are things you can do. So, some of the things that we recommend – and coaches have to coach themselves too – so some of the things I recommend are, one, asking a question. So questions open up thinking in a way that statements don’t. So if you’re interrupting and saying, “It seems like this conversation has gone off track” – you’re kind of asserting a judgment in a way that other people might respond with like, “Stop interrupting us; we’re having a conversation here.”
But if instead you ask a question, like, “I’m listening to what you’re all saying and I’m trying to connect how this train of thought is going to help us achieve our outcome. So I’m not suggesting we stop; I’m just trying to understand the connection.” Now you’re actually asking people to respond and say, “Oh, how is this helping us achieve our outcome? Oh, maybe it’s not. Maybe we could table this for later.” So you can use questions to guide a conversation.
Another approach is to just suggest that it gets taken off the table right away. So this is what I wish I would have done. I wish I would have said in that meeting, “This is a really important conversation that we’re having right now. I don’t think it’s the most important conversation for this whole group to be having. I’m wondering if we could have a subgroup tackle this topic after the meeting ends, or maybe next week when we can find time to get together. But I feel like we have a bunch of people in this room that this conversation isn’t relevant for.”
And that’s also what happens, is when conversations go off track, it’s maybe a few people who are interested in the topic and you start getting into the weeds, but it’s actually not relevant for the whole group, or it’s not going to help you get to that outcome. And that conversation doesn’t need to stop; it just doesn’t need to happen right then. It needs to be taken offline for a different meeting or a different conversation.

Pete Mockaitis

Lovely, thank you. Well, now, any thoughts when it comes to doing the capturing of the notes and the actions and the follow-up activities?

Mamie Stewart

Oh yes. So nobody loves taking notes. At least I haven’t met anybody who says they love taking notes. It’s not a fun job, it often can feel very administrative, but taking good notes in a meeting is a really wonderful skill. And you can develop this skill by practicing. But it’s hard to get engage and take notes and maybe help facilitate and keep things on track, so it can be a lot one person to do. So, if you’re not in that boat of, “I want to learn to take good notes and it’s going to be a thing that I do all the time, is take meeting notes”, another approach that we recommend for teams is to take notes as a team.
So during the course of the meeting, everybody is responsible for writing down key information. If you hear a decision that’s made, write it down. If you hear a next step that’s called out, write it down. If you hear a big idea or important information or something that’s relevant for you, write it down. And at the end of the meeting, you reserve the last five minutes to do a wrap-up. And one person pulls up some sort of digital document – could be an email, could be a meeting tool that you’re using, could be a Google Doc. It doesn’t really matter; we just suggest that it be digital so it can be shared easily. And you type up the notes together.
So you do a little round robin and you say, “Okay, who captured a decision?” Or ask the group, “What decisions did we make today?” And people will call it out, and one person types it up. And you build the notes together so that at the end of that five minutes, at the end of the meeting, you have now notes that everybody’s agreed upon, because they all sat there and built them together.
And it’s instantly shareable, so even people who weren’t in the meeting can be informed of the meeting’s outcomes. So if you were that person who opted out of the meeting because you didn’t feel like it was important for you to be there, but you actually do need to know what came out of the meeting – if there was a decision made that affects your work – it can be instantly shared.

Pete Mockaitis

I dig it, thank you. Well, tell me, Mamie – any other key things you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Mamie Stewart

Just that meetings can be really fun. Meetings have such a bad rap and it’s not their fault. Meetings are really a wonderful way to come together and be with your peers and your people and build culture and move work forward. And it does take some effort, it does take some thinking, but that’s why I wrote the book and that’s why my business exists, because we can help people do it. It’s not rocket science. It takes a little bit of knowledge, a little bit of skill, and mostly a lot of effort, a willingness to say, “I’m going to do something about this. I’m not going to let meetings get in my way anymore. I’m not going to let them be this big distraction. They’re not a necessary evil of business”, and putting forth the effort to say, “I’m going to change this.”

Pete Mockaitis

Excellent, thank you. Alright, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something that you find inspiring?

Mamie Stewart

Yeah, so I have a piece of artwork that hangs in my office by a fantastic artist, Shannon Finnegan. And it’s double-sided. And one side says, “Change is impossible”, and the other side says, “Change is inevitable.” And I love it. As soon as I saw it in the gallery I was like, “I have to have that”, because I find that that is kind of the constant state of being of feeling like, “Oh my gosh, changing people’s behavior, trying to impact how people work, all of those things – it just feels impossible sometimes.”
Our habits and our behaviors are so ingrained to who we are and how we think that it’s impossible to change. And yet, we’re always changing. We’re never really static people; we’re constantly learning and growing and evolving. And so this dynamic tension that exists within change is just something I love and think about a lot.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Mamie Stewart

So I’ve been thinking a lot about this when you sent that question, and I kind of came to two conclusions because I listen to a lot of audio books and I read a lot. And I love the Center for Creative Leadership – they do a lot of different research, but I just love their work. And it’s not a particular study, but the research that’s been done on the impact of sleep on productivity and how important it is to get healthy sleep, and the diminishing returns that come from working long hours.
As an entrepreneur I started in the mindset of, “You have to work crazy hours and do everything you can to make this business succeed, and you need to drive your employees to get the most out of them.” And that just wasn’t me, and it didn’t really work for me. And when I started reading some of the research about the importance of sleep and work / life balance and all these things, like, “Yeah, that makes a lot more sense. I don’t want to work 15 hours a day. I have two little kids and a husband who I love and I want to be with. And I’m not going to do that.” And if I’m not doing it, I’m definitely not making my employees do it.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright. And how about a favorite book?

Mamie Stewart

For managers I love the book Radical Candor. I’m sure you’ve heard this one before.

Pete Mockaitis

We had Kim on the show.

Mamie Stewart

Yeah, and she’s wonderful. It’s just a great book. I really love it. And for non-work-related stuff, I love the book Zero: The History of a Dangerous Idea. It’s about the concept “zero” and the history of this idea within mathematics and in life, that there could be nothingness. And there was a time where in math there wasn’t a concept of zero because you couldn’t have zero. Zero was not a tangible thing that you could have. You could have one, but you couldn’t have zero. And once zero became part of the world, it opened up math in a phenomenal way. It allowed for negative numbers and imaginary numbers and all kinds of cool stuff that we didn’t always have before that.

Pete Mockaitis

Thank you. And how about a favorite tool?

Mamie Stewart

Well, I already said that I love technology, and I love apps. So a couple of my favorites are Mixmax – I use it for my email and I use it for scheduling, and just it’s a great tool. And I have an app on my phone called Forest, which allows me to grow a tree to keep me from using my phone. Now at work I almost never use it because I don’t get distracted by my phone at work, but when I’m at home with my kids, it’s this horrible thing that I do because it’s like, “I’m so bored playing dolls, I think I’m just going to get my phone up.”
So, my kids now know and they will tell me, “Mommy, let’s play. Can you grow a tree?” And I’ll open up my phone and I will set a timer for the tree to grow in 30 minutes. And basically every time I open up my phone, it asks me if I want to kill my tree, and I say, “No, I don’t want to kill my tree. I want to play with my kids.” And so I will put my phone back down. So, it’s a great tool to keep you from being distracted by your phone.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh wow. And how about a favorite habit?

Mamie Stewart

I love habits. So, one of my favorites is to make a checklist of what you want to get done every day. So, sitting down every morning, and whether you have a to-do list that you’re pulling from or it’s just all kept in your brain – however you keep yourself organized – being really intentional, just like with a meeting, know what is it that you want to achieve in that day, and make a little checklist for yourself. It helps you stay focused, and that sense of satisfaction when you check everything off feels really good. And if you didn’t get to everything, you could even do a little mini reflection. So, I’ll often look and say, “Where did I get distracted?” or, “How did I either underestimate or overestimate how much time something was going to take?”

Pete Mockaitis

And tell me, is there a particular number of things you have on this to-do list? Some people say, “The five most important things, the three most important things, the two most important things”, or “No more than two hours’ worth.” How do you gauge that?

Mamie Stewart

I’m not a fan of arbitrary rules. The same thing happens with meetings – people say, “I like the ‘two pizza rule’. You should never have more than X number of people” or, “Meetings should never be more than 20 minutes”, or whatever. I don’t know, I don’t subscribe to those things. I feel like arbitrary rules maybe are general rules of thumb that can help, but they don’t actually get to the underlying problem.
And so, if you’re being really intentional, it’s not about how many things are on your to-do list; it’s about what you have the capacity to do that day. So when I look at my calendar and I see I only have an hour of time today where I’m not in scheduled meetings – what am I going to do in that one hour? What’s the biggest priority?
And it might only be one thing – it might be writing the outline for my next episode of The Modern Manager, or it might be working on the proposal for the client that I’m courting. If I have six hours available in a day, it’s a totally different list. So it really just depends, and each activity takes a different amount of time. So you have to be thoughtful. I don’t think it’s helpful to just say, “I’m going to pick three things to do”, because that might not be enough and it might be too many.

Pete Mockaitis

Got it. And Mamie, tell me – is there a particular thing that when you’re sharing your wisdom, really seems to connect and resonate and get folks nodding and re-tweeting and quoting yourself back to you?

Mamie Stewart

Well, we talked about it a lot today, which was the desired outcome. That is definitely the number one thing that I talk about, it’s the number one thing I suggest people do. So, if you’re only going to do one thing after listening to this podcast, look at your calendar and for any meetings that you’re planning, write a desired outcome, or for any meetings that you’re attending, ask yourself, “What do I think the desired outcome is of this meeting?” And if you’re not clear, go ask someone about it.

Pete Mockaitis

And Mamie, tell me – if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Mamie Stewart

So you can find all my information on my website, which is MamieKS.com. So you can get my email there, you can find information on my book, you can find my Facebook and Twitter accounts, all that good stuff.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright. And do you have a final parting challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Mamie Stewart

Yeah. So, definitely do that desired outcome thing I just talked about. And secondly – it’s kind of broad, but take ownership of your meetings. Whether you’re planning them or attending them, you have the responsibility and you have the capability to make them productive. So, stop looking at meetings as this necessary evil, as this horrible thing that’s going to waste your time, and start looking at them as an opportunity to get work done.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, I love it. Mamie, thank you so much for taking this time and sharing the goods. I wish you and Momentum and Meeteor all the success in the world!

Mamie Stewart

Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure.

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