The problem statement... a solution to a runaway meeting.

A meeting can be defined as a gathering of two or more people that has been convened for the purpose of achieving a common goal such as sharing information, reaching agreement, etc.* - With that said, meetings are one of those business topics that are easy fodder for opinion, which more often than not, isn't flattering.

Dave Barry, the Pulitzer-Prize winning humorist said, "Meetings are an addictive, highly self-indulgent activity that corporations and other organizations habitually engage in only because they cannot actually masturbate". I myself can still remember a meeting where a team, after 45 minutes, had still not come up with a name for themselves, I truly don't know if they ever did, as I just left to go do something more productive... see how easy it is to take shots. It is not my intention to spend any time on the "six easy steps for a more effective meeting", as the Internet can serve you very well that way. I did however, want to spend a minute or two on how the "Problem Statement" can be used to effectively stop a runaway meeting. 

A while back, I found myself in a "we have to fix this meeting"... six or seven people around the table brainstorming and as you may appreciate, it was a free for all with conversation from every direction. About ten minutes into the meeting, a very wise financial leader asked a very simple question that brought the meeting to a very abrupt and silent halt.

"What is the problem statement we are trying to solve for?"

It was very apparent we really did not know what we were there to discuss, let alone solve for. After about five or so minutes of reflective comments and open thoughts, we rallied around a half-baked problem and finished the meeting. I actually don't know if we had another meeting on the subject, but then again, I may have blacked it out.

As a quick definition, a problem statement is a concise description of the issues that need to be addressed by a problem solving team and should be presented to them (or created by them) before they try to solve the problem*. Asking what the "problem statement is" comes in handy as a galvanizing question in meetings when the objective is to solve a problem - It is also useful to sort out meetings that don't seem to have an objective.

This brings me to another point... all meetings should have articulated objectives:

  • A meeting to share information.
  • A meeting to plan (includes meeting to take advantage of an opportunity).
  • A meeting to solve a problem.
  • A meeting to reach agreement and manage next steps.

In my opinion every meeting should begin with the meeting's objective and the problem statement that the meeting is trying to solve for. But again, everyone has opinions on meetings.


* definitions are from Wikipedia