Interview with Al Pittampalli

I recently wrote a review of Read This Before Our Next Meeting by Al Pittampalli. It is a good book and well worth the money. Al was gracious enough to do an interview with us about his passion for creating better meetings. You may end up buying a bunch of extra copies to give to give out at the office.  Also check out the Modern Meeting Standard website.

Al used to work for Ernst & Young where he spent his working with a bunch of different companies. A good percentage of his time was spent in meetings, so he is in a good place to understand the problems with normal meetings. More importantly, he has some great ideas about how meetings should be used and how they should be avoided.

Why are you so passionate about making better meetings?

I’m in love with the idea of organization. The promise of organization is that individuals working together in alignment, can achieve way more than the the sum of those individuals could on their own. This is how we put a man on the moon, invented the Iphone, and created the internet.

But in so many organizations, meetings are disgracing that promise. Meetings are debilitating collaboration, and preventing forward progress instead of enabling it. I’m fascinated with the possibilities that could be realized if we fixed this problem.

What if someone takes exception to some parts of the Modern Meeting Standard?

The Modern Meeting Standard at it’s essence is a posture, an attitude, one that demands we reinvent meetings. I’ve developed a methodology, and people may not agree with everything, that’s fine.

Every organization has different needs, and each one must develop a meeting system that works for them (as long as it addresses the delayed decision making, culture of compromise, and false urgency I write about).

What is crucially important is realizing that the meetings system is broken beyond repair and we need to fundamentally reinvent it. Start there.

It sounds like one of the leading causes of unnecessary meetings is organizations where the person who needs to make the decision doesn’t necessarily have the authority to do so. How do you structure an organization so this isn’t the case?

There’s no one structure. Every organization is different. What I do know is that the real problem is not structure, it’s culture. Stephen Covey wrote years ago about the speed of trust. I think that’s what we’re missing: trust.

Do you empower your people to make quick decisions, or do they have to seek your approval every single time? Do we feel the need to be included on all decisions? Are we able to accept the consequences of someone who makes a bad decision?

If we want an organization with flexibility, velocity, and power, we need to embrace a culture that trusts others to make decisions without requiring endless approvals. The Modern Meeting Standard forces teams to confront this fact every time they have a meeting. That’s a powerful first step.

How much of the modern meeting crisis is caused by poor writing and reading skills?

Too much. We call a meeting instead of writing because we know our people don’t read. We don’t read, because we’re certain that if the information is that important, someone will probably call a meeting. It’s a horrible conundrum, that results in absurd meetings where people are herded into a room just to be force fed information.

It’s an incredibly wasteful epidemic where there is a simple (though not easy) cure: Everyone agrees to cancel all the informational meetings and instead write clear, cogent memos. And in turn everyone commits to reading the memos without fail.

So how do you learn to write better? I know a lot of people really struggle with writing and often don’t feel there is anything they can do to change that.

The only way to get better is to practice. I wish there was a shortcut but there isn’t. Try going an entire week (or at least a couple of days) without picking up the phone or calling a meeting. Force yourself to write cogent thoughtful messages to your colleagues instead. That’s a great first step.

If someone reads your book and likes the concept of the Modern Meeting Standard, how should they get started? (Particularly when they aren’t in a position to dictate company wide changes.)

Convince just one person to hold a modern meeting: your boss, a colleague, a manager. This isn’t easy, but it has to be done. Your organization depends on it. This revolution can spread fast inside your company. All it takes is one courageous person to stand up and say, “Hey, can you read this before our next meeting, please?”

Comments

  1. Al Pittampalli says

    Great interview Mark. You asked fantastic questions, and I love your work. Unfortunately, the last day to get the FREE Kindle version was yesterday. Sorry guys.

    • says

      Thanks for pointing that out. I revised the post to help prevent confusion. Since I published this yesterday, hopefully some readers were able to take advantage of the offer while it was still free. Regardless, the book is still well worth the price.

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