I saw it coming a couple weeks back when I agreed to it. My concern was rekindled when I saw the agenda. When I left home for the meeting, I warned Marie it would likely be a late one.
I should have been able to stop it, and yet I didn’t.
Learn from my tale. Save the children. Somebody needs to prevent this from happening again.
Here are a few details to bring you up to speed:
- I served for the past four years as a member of Edina’s Transportation Commission. This March I took on the Chair’s role.
- Whenever someone offers the Commission an information-rich presentation, the discussion tends to last a long time.
- We were supposed to have one of these presentations in March, but it was delayed a month because the report wasn’t ready.
- We had already scheduled another presentation for April.
So in addition to our normal business, we were going to have two presentations at our April meeting. This is what set off alarm bells in my brain.
My first mistake was not pushing one presentation into May. I had already pushed another proposed action item because I thought we were overloaded.
Still, when I got the draft agenda, I estimated times for the agenda items and thought that if I controlled things tightly, we could complete the meeting in 2.5 hours. Not ideal, but also not bad considering we had these two presentations on the same night.
As a side note, a meeting’s length should be determined after identifying how much work needs to be accomplished. If I’ve got 90 minutes of work, I schedule a 90 minute meeting.
The problem with commission meetings is that there is no end time set. They go until they are done. While some members might have the energy for that, I sure don’t. After working a full day, I’m ready to commit a couple more hours of volunteer time to this activity, but not much more.
Because of this I’ve set a goal for myself to keep the amount of work to what can be accomplished in two hours. That’s why I wasn’t happy about 2.5 hours, but considering our average meetings typically ran three hours, and the first meeting I ever attended ran more than four, I thought 2.5 was progress.
Keep in mind, my estimates were based on a tightly controlled meeting. I estimated the first presentation/discussion would take 30 minutes and the second would take 45.
When I arrived and folks were getting settled, I introduced myself to the speakers. I asked them how long they expected their presentations and the related discussion to take. Both told me 30 minutes, tops. Feeling relieved, I thought to myself that my estimates were solid and I’d be fine. That was mistake number two. I let my guard down.
As the meeting began, I casually mentioned that we had a full agenda and that we’d need to move things along. Based on the estimates I confirmed with the speakers, I didn’t think I’d need to do more than that.
My willingness to slack off a bit could also be attributed to the cold I developed just a couple hours prior to the meeting. It came on fast and my energy level had already tanked. I just wanted to go home and crawl into bed. So much for tightly controlled.
Mistakes 3 & 4
When I introduced the first speaker, I made two more mistakes. I should have told everyone that we had 30 minutes to complete the presentation and discussion. I didn’t. Also, I should have established the process which I thought should be let the speaker complete their 15 minute presentation and then address 15 minutes of questions. Again, I didn’t.
Here’s what happened. The speaker talked for about 15 minutes without pause, then took a breath and opened up for discussion prior to continuing. The topic was interesting. The commissioners had lots of questions. There was nothing standing in their way, except me, and I had a cold. After an hour, I finally found my facilitation spine and nodded off a few people who wanted in with their questions and brought it to a close. That presentation exceeded the estimate by 100% and would have gone longer if I’d let it.
The fifth mistake came on the second presentation when I didn’t learn and adjust based on the first. Instead I introduced that speaker in the same way and wouldn’t you know, the same thing happened. His 30 minutes turned into an hour. Again I had to bring it to a close.
Let’s sum up. I thought I could get through these two presentations in 75 minutes. The speakers thought they could do a combination of 60. I finally called time at 120. Without intervention, I’m convinced that between the two, they could have easily gone another 30-45 minutes.
In hindsight, it’s easy to recognize the mistakes. The presenters did what we asked. They gave us information we needed and were extremely accommodating as they responded to our questions. They did a terrific job.
The commissioners did their job. They listened attentively. They asked probing questions, and offered feedback as requested.
I’m the one who didn’t do my job. I owned the agenda, and it was my job to make sure we didn’t have more on it than we could handle and then make sure we efficiently worked our way through to the end.
The meeting took almost 3.5 hours. No breaks. In the evening. Rubbing up against my bed time.
I would never let that happen in a meeting that I run for my clients. Not sure why I let it happen here. I could blame the cold, but I suspect a better explanation is that it’s scary changing what everyone seemingly accepts as normal practice.
Still, that’s the meeting leader’s job. And it’s one I plan to fulfill during my time as Chair. I’ll learn from my mistakes and take what I learn into May’s meeting. I feel hopeful.