Archive for the ‘meetings’ Category

think about office housekeeping for everyone’s sake

Friday, March 6th, 2015

iStock-Unfinished-Business-10If you follow any business publications, recently you’ve seen articles related to office housekeeping, brought to the forefront by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. I appreciate how their opinion piece in The New York Times brought this important issue about how women and men take on office housekeeping in different ways, with the burden often falling to the women. That said, many of the spin off pieces focus more on complaining about the situation or go into how housekeeping already falls disproportionately towards women at home, turning into a rant.

For me, thinking about office housework affects everyone on the job. At Stanford, the majority of faculty are men and the majority of women are staff (with the exception of top leadership, which is predominantly male). That means that in my role, gender is not always played out in the same way, yet the principle of particularly people burdened by housework clearly exists.

What is office housework? I’d describe it as tasks that must get done for the workplace to function and have a healthy environment. Typically, these things are not fun, interesting, challenging and most importantly, they don’t lead to promotions or organizationally visibility. On top  of your regularly scheduled programming, they can contribute to emotional exhaustion as well as increase your workload. I’ll share a quick list of examples:

  • training and onboarding new hires
  • cleaning the fridge or kitchen
  • mentoring others
  • reviewing colleagues materials or providing feedback
  • taking notes and minutes at meetings (as well as white boarding)
  • planning office parties
  • ordering food for meetings
  • committee work
  • scheduling
  • organizing department retreats

Now some of these responsibilities might actually fall into your job description, particularly if you play an administrative role on staff. Also, certain people in the office actually enjoy doing these things. Yet, once you’re known as someone who loves to show appreciation by planning parties, or perhaps you have excellent handwriting to take notes, or supposed you’re a pro at planning off-site retreats – you may find yourself stuck there. No one else volunteers, you over-volunteer at the expense of other valuable work you could be doing or your co-workers intentionally or unintentionally take advantage of your happy disposition to keep up the good work.

Both individual contributors and managers should examine how office housekeeping plays out in your department and organization. Keeping an eye on these responsibilities helps even out the playing field between your staff and you should track particular repetitive tasks to make sure they are equitably distributed. I’ll offer some strategies to consider to balance the office housekeeping:

  1.  Prioritize your own needs over that of the organization. This seems like a selfish way to start my list, yet owning your career requires a constant balance between you and your work. I’m not suggesting that you don’t offer up your time to take on office housekeeping – I possess the perspective that everyone should pitch in. That said, you can take on some tasks when you have a lesser workload, feel fulfilling or offer you a strategic angle. I’m guilty of taking on several extracurricular committees and serving on interview panels. Yet, I’m deliberate about these commitments, only taking on committees that offer personal value. When I sign up to help interview, it’s only for positions where I offer a unique perspective or plan to work with that person a lot.
  2. Rotate responsibilities! For regular mundane tasks like notes, planning parties, retreats, ordering food, etc. If they aren’t in someone’s job description, taking on a process to rotate duties easily shares the burden. At the Alumni Association, I’ve seen departments do this in an effective way, whether it’s our executive cabinet with note rotation or Travel/Study in how planning their annual retreat gets assigned to the newbies with a seasoned staff member guiding them on a rotation. If you want to ask for volunteers to find out who’s interested in planning something, have them email you instead of raising their hand in a meeting so that you can see all of the hands raised and ensure the same person isn’t taking on the same task over and over again.
  3. Say no, nicely or strategically. You can say no more than you think. Sometimes it’s easy enough as directly turning down an offer to help and other times, you could offer up a process suggestion (like rotating) or suggest another person for the job. At times, this could be interpreted as passing the buck, and at other times, you might be offering an opportunity for another person to gain exposure in a new area (particularly for things like committees, mentoring and interviewing)
  4. Make the housework glamorous. You can’t do this for everything – making coffee is making coffee. Yet, if you’re stuck taking notes or white boarding, you have the unique role of positioning the message and offering strategic next steps. With a retreat, you can turn something regular into a game-changing experience for team or focus on an area important to your work. With training or mentoring colleagues, you can gain allies and build influence across the organization.
  5. Track what’s happening. I mentioned this above and I’ll say it again for emphasis. Managers and individual contributors need to look at what’s happening and if you see patterns that bother you, bring them up. As a mid-level manager, I get asked to contribute in many, many ways, and if I didn’t keep an eye on my commitments, I can easily find myself in trouble. As a manager of staff, I have an amazing team that steps up a lot. When I see them offering too much time or a perspective that might not demonstrate their expertise or skills, I’m quick to bring this up in our 1-on-1 meetings. It’s important to acknowledge the kind of professional behaviors that help us either gain respect or move up in the organization – for women, and for everyone.

Read more on office housekeeping from these sources:

consider a meeting checklist

Saturday, July 27th, 2013

I recently finished The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, which focuses on creating and implementing medical checklists for surgical procedures to increase success rates. It’s interesting timing since this week I attended a training on Leading Effective Meetings, essentially based around a checklist.

Although not life-saving, the meeting checklist is certainly time-saving – for yourself, your colleagues, and the organization as a whole. Here it is in full:


  • Do I really need to call a meeting?
  • Am I clear on the purpose of the meeting?
  • Have I thought through who needs to be there?
  • Have I considered the best time, place and other logistics?
  • Do I have a clear agenda?
  • Have I sent out effective meeting notifications?
  • Have I planned how I will lead the meeting step-by-step?
  • Have I planned how I will manage meeting “derailers?”


  • Am I following my step-by-step meeting plan?
  • Am I managing “derailers” to keep the meeting on track and on-time?
  •  Are decisions, action items and open issues being documented?


  • Have minutes been distributed?
  • Have I followed up on my own commitments to meeting members?

Now that you have a snapshot of the meeting checklist, I’ll comment on a few relevant to my experience at Stanford. In the training, our facilitator stated that the average worker is in meetings 5.5 hours per week, so poorly run meetings can be a huge wasted expense for companies in terms of salary. I’ve time tracked an average work week for myself and I can be in meetings between 10-20 hours, depending on the time of year. I know you are now wondering how I get anything done, but let’s move onto some tips…

Thinking about the purpose of your meeting is so important.

It’s easy to be complacent and continue to attend standing meetings without wondering if they are still effective or why they exist. When I get invited to random meetings and I’m not sure why I’m there, I don’t hesitate to go back to the meeting organizer to find out the purpose. As an aside, how much time do you actually need for it? I have a regular meeting for reunions I attend, and I find we expand to fill the time allotted. Sometimes our 30 minute meetings feel much more focused and useful.

Who need to be there?

Have you ever attended a meeting and the clear decision maker is late or not present? It’s such a frustrating experience because the group can go nowhere without basic information from this key person…and it essentially leads to another meeting. It’s important to make sure that key stakeholders/decision makers are present for particular meetings. And if you have someone in the room just as an FYI, let him/her know it’s optional. I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t want an hour back.

Did you plan the meeting?

If I’m running a meeting, you had better believe that I put 10-45 minutes into planning that time wisely. A one-hour meeting with 6 people is 6 hours of organizational time. It’s worth the investment to consider your goals and it’s respectful to your colleagues’ time. It’s obvious to most people in the room when the meeting organizer hasn’t brought an agenda or clear outcomes to the table, and also frustrating.

Meeting Minutes

My two cents on minutes is that they are essential for project meetings and not in a long form. Honestly, if someone sends you two pages of notes, are you going to read them? And…if it’s an attachment and not in the body of the e-mail, forget about it – that’s an extra click! The best kinds of minutes come out within 48 hours and just include bulleted lists of decisions, topics discussed (overall) and action items with the assigned person. They shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes to type up, and brevity increased the chances that your meeting attendees will actually read them.

Follow up

After a meeting takes place, when I see co-workers actually follow up on their action items, that separates the wheat from the chaff in the workplace. It shouldn’t be impressive since that’s our job, but nowadays with overflowing work plates, getting deliverables to colleagues before a deadline can be a rarity. I usually have a side column on my agenda with my to dos. Some of those are from the meeting and others are just items that pop into my head when I’m in the room. At the end of the day, I make sure to tackle those items, add it to my calendar to block out time to work on it or write it down on my primary task list so it doesn’t fall off my radar.

Final thoughts

I talk a lot about meetings (since I’m in them all of the time!) It’s not that I don’t like them. I actually think they can be highly productive and brainstorming meetings are especially fun. I do get frustrated when lack of planning or purpose wastes the time and talents of people in the room. It’s great practice to scan over this checklist – especially when running large meetings – so we can all grow to love them a little bit more.

Do status meetings work?

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Today I had a BeWell appointment, swiftly followed by four meetings that ran straight through my lunch hour. Lucky for me, only 1 of these constituted a status update meeting, but depending on the time of year, 2 more of these would turn into an hour where colleagues give brief updates around the table.

According to a recent survey by Harris Interactive,  I’m not alone in feeling these lead to counterproductive meetings, as “only 30 percent of U.S. information workers feel status meetings help them accomplish work tasks, and 40 percent believe status meetings are a waste of time.” For me, the most shocking findings from the survey were that half of information workers find preparing the information takes longer than the meeting itself and then spend 1-3 hours attending meetings to update each other. Shocking! Add to that people showing up late, not attending, playing on their phone, etc. and there’s a lot of time wasted.

I don’t find this is always the case. I’m do believe in productive, efficient meetings. You can realize this with a quick look at my calendar, where I frequently schedule 30 minute meetings and get project updates that aren’t on a weekly basis.

It’s a new year and I’ve noticed managers trying out new staff meeting tactics. Our team is still deciding the best format that makes sense. Another department is doing weekly updates through e-mail and the director consolidates and sends out notes. This works well if everyone submits and reads them – especially more effective for a team that is often traveling.

Here are a few tips from me to help you organize successful meetings:

  • Does a meeting even need to happen? Consider alternatives like a status update.
  • For project teams, is a weekly basis overkill? Why not organize these meetings around project milestones and collaborative topics instead?
  • The facilitator has to do the job of running the meeting. The facilitator should not consider herself/himself as an attendee as much as an organizer to ensure everyone is focused and on topic.
  • Know your meeting objective. Send it out in advance if that’s helpful.
  • If you send out the agenda, do this in the body of the e-mail instead of as an attachment. If I attend 10 meetings in a week and everyone sent an attached agenda, how many will I actually open in advance? If you want to increase chances your agenda gets read, placing text in the e-mail body allows colleagues to read on their phone or while glancing through e-mail.
  • How much time do you need? 30 minutes will often suffice. 45 minutes is ideal and attainable with some thought put into it. Also, everyone will show up on time to their next meeting, since you planned well.
  • Finally, outline next steps and responsibilities resulting from the meeting. It should feel like there was progress, or why did you all sit around the table in the first place?

lunchtime tips

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

Lunch shouldn’t equal and extra hour of work, but let’s face it, you’re eating in front of your keyboard more than you really should. Especially when we all have more work on our plates than we’d like, we shift towards trying to work constantly.

I’m guilty of it myself, but I do a couple of ways to keep my spirits up. Every week, I do yoga on campus on Tuesday and I try to take 1-2 long lunches with colleagues. This way, if I find I can’t get away each and every day, I still make sure I get some me time.

The Manager Tools Podcast has a nice 30 minute talk on how to approach the lunch hour in different ways. I didn’t care for part two that much, but this first piece is pretty good. Aside from plain good mental health, they propose using this time to network and socialize. I know of one professor at Stanford that had a goal of setting up lunches with all of the faculty at the university at some point. I try to strike a nice balance between those in my department, across campus and other friends to stay in touch and rejuvenate myself.

Lunch is supposed to be an hour for a reason – it’s a basic labor standard that we workerbees are constantly denying ourselves for no good reason. We’re more productive when we take this time. It clears your head, provides a natural break in the day to socialize, read or take a walk and get moving, or it simply allows you to rest your eyes away from the computer. I’m a big fan, and who shouldn’t be? Constantly missing lunchtime to do your work only leads to job resentment; it’s your time and you should be taking it.

here we go a-conferencing!

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Next week is our industry’s primary annual conference – the Ivy Plus Alumni Relations Conference. Cornell is hosting, and since I was snowed in last year while visiting, I’m looking forward to lovely weather and having more than two sets of clothes while there. In light of this upcoming visit, I wanted to post some suggestions about attending a conference – of course, some of these unique to being in a less-competitive industry like higher education.

99%, the think tank for Behance posted their 5 conference tips recently:

  • Separate the wisdom from the action.
  • Distill every talk down to one key takeaway.
  • Defy structure to mine the circumstantial.
  • Plan private gatherings with like-minded folks.
  • Process business cards for follow-up in real-time.

I think these are pretty good tips. Here’s a few best practices I like to follow, especially when there’s a group from your office all attending the same conference:

Prepare. Bring business cards, brush up on your numbers (for me, that means reminding myself about general statistics on our alumni population), and bring printed materials to share with others. If you have a successful program and you know others will be interested in learning more, bring some background material to have at your disposal.

Don’t skip out on any sessions. Work pays for conferences and it’s not a joyride. That sounds tough, but it’s true. You might have e-mails piling up or other work, but you need to put it aside and take advantage of all of the benefits of a good conference – great content, mingling with co-workers and networking with peers. Trying to squeeze in other work doesn’t allow you to get the most out of a conference.

Keep a running idea list for your organization. Conferences always give you some kind of notebook. I take notes during sessions, but I also keep a list on the back page of specific ideas I should consider for my own projects when I return. This puts all the ideas in one place and creates a set of action items or possibilities to think about relevant to your own work. If you have some involvement in organizing the conference in the future, it’s also a great place to list potential changes or additions to future meetings (maybe unique to my position, being in an events department).

Mingle with other people and spark up conversations. Professional conferences end up being a unique chance to bond with fellow co-workers. The challenge is in finding the right balance between sticking with your group and making sure to connect with others during your time there. I tend to gather with the Stanford folks at meal times (unless they are round tables around my professional area) and then sessions, sit next to people from other schools. If your organization has planned attendance thoughtfully, your organization should be spread out with not everyone attending the same session. Sometimes my best conference takeaways have been from lingering conversations after sessions or in the optional conference activities.

Write down all the conference followup with peers. How many times at a meeting have you said, “I’ll get back to you on that?” and how many times have you actually followed through? This happens a lot at conferences, so I keep a list of names and what I’m following up on a separate page of my notebook. Upon returning back to the Bay Area, I try to get to all of these follow-ups within a week. Your peers will appreciate it and you’ll be doing your best to keep the connection alive.

Speak up and share information. I’ve noticed co-workers in sessions sometimes withholding information and I don’t always understand that. Share and share alike is true, and the more knowledge you’re offering up, the more you’re likely to receive. In particular, if your industries are not competing, there’s nothing to lose.

Bring back wisdom to the office. The thing about conferences is that not everyone can attend. Usually 10-15% of our organization attend this Ivy Plus Alumni Relations Conference, and about half of these folks are regulars. Here’s a few things you can do to share:

  • Take time out of a staff meeting after you return to share some of your learnings, especially those relevant to your organization.
  • Connect your staff with other staff from institutions in similar roles
  • If there are LinkedIn groups, Facebook pages, listserves, etc – let your co-workers know so they can stay current as well.
  • Pass along readings, resources or other conference materials co-workers might find helpful.

Spreading the information will only make your organization as a whole better and stronger.

meetings, meetings, meetings

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

At the Alumni Association, we have a meeting culture. Part of it is the work that we do, which is very collaborative – another thing is that as a matrix organization, we’re always putting together several people to put together a program. I’m not someone that dislikes meetings off the bat; I feel they are important and opportunities for people to provide input. In fact, when I was just starting out on the job, I jumped at the chance to sit in on meetings to see how projects come together, observe how co-workers work together and also have the opportunity to provide input when requested. It’s a great way to learn on the job and figure out how to work with people, especially when you are low on the totem pole. It’s a missed opportunity to zone out until it’s your turn to contribute.

Despite my seeming love for meetings, there’s nothing worse than sitting through a bad meeting. In a given week, I attend between 10-25 hours in meetings. That’s a lot. My tech friends find meetings stupid, especially with the number of people and hours sitting around the table. Although I disagree – since it’s part of the work that I do  – I’m hyperaware when things aren’t right. 99 % by Behance posted a great blog on how to Treat Your Meetings to a Little QA, so check it out.

Personally, this is what I’m looking for in a meeting to be productive:

  • A facilitator. Someone has to bring the agenda and keep the meeting on target.
  • A known goal or objective. People around the table need to know why they are there and what they are supposed to bring. Sending a blank meeting invite is pretty disrespectful of people’s time. If you can’t send out an agenda, at least convey the goal.
  • Realistic timing. Don’t schedule an hour unless you need it. 15 and 30 minute meetings are a great idea and attendees will appreciate that you considered their time. On the same note, if you’re debriefing a program with 10 people, make time for the 90 minutes or 2 hours this will take.
  • Attendees that pay attention. Don’t play on your phone or even allow it to vibrate on the table. It’s so frustrating when 10 people show up in a conference room and people don’t have the courtesy to give full attention and put their phone aside. Take notes when needed and listen to others. If you keep attending meetings and zoning out, maybe you shouldn’t be there in the first place.
  • Start and end on time. If 12 people are in a meeting and the group waits on 2 people that show up 10 minutes late, you’ve essentially wasted  2 hours of company time (12 people x 10 minutes). It sounds trivial, but it adds up.
  • Action items. My most effective meetings are ones where I’ve used Basecamp and after the meeting, send out a message to the whole group with brief action items and the person it’s assigned to. I don’t always do this, but it’s brilliant when it works.

Of course, the rules aren’t the same for all gatherings.

Behance suggests that someone takes notes. One of the best changes in our department this year is that we got rid of notes at our weekly meeting. There’s only 8 people and every week, someone had to spend 30-45 minutes to send out notes that most people never read. Eliminating them has been a timesaver, yet I see so many groups continue this practice. Oddly, we don’t have anyone take and send out brief notes from our staff meetings, which over 100 people attend. If you miss them and don’t chat with a co-worker, you could have missed an organization initiative or important presentation relevant to your work. That’s not so smart in my opinion.

Brainstorms are a different ballgame. I’ve led a couple on random areas. There’s nothing more beneficial to a project than refreshing it wholly every couple of years and getting new perspectives. Sometimes this is easy – just to solicit opinions without a meeting. For example, last year I sent an e-mail out to Development and Alumni Association employees asking for ideas for campus tours and Classes Without Quizzes that I organize every year at Reunion Homecoming. I think I do a great job researching new ideas, but spending 10 minutes to craft an e-mail, I ended up with 13 pages worth of recommendations. Collective wisdom is invaluable! Creative brainstorms are better around a table. To look at pricing for reunions, I pulled in some folks working on the program, staff alums and some other random folks to get many points of view. These kinds of meetings can require more time, a solid facilitator and co-workers invested in the goal.

I’m on a task force at the Alumni Association reviewing performance management, and our cabinet member likes to do a plus/delta at the end of the meeting. I’m not sure I would employ it for all of my meetings, but it can be a great tool at the end to spend a couple minutes with the group deciding what worked well and what could have been better. Another great tool that I haven’t adopted (since I attend more meetings than I run) is available on Dan Markovitz’s Timeback Blog: the Standard Work for Meetings spreadsheet, which is a simple, great way to track how effective you are at running meetings.