The art of Category meetings (five ways to make faster progress)

Written by Paul Maher

The debate about whether workers should return to their desks, or continue to work from home as they did during lockdown, has thrown a light on the main reason cited for being physically present – in-person meetings.

The return to real life is back on.

Meetings vary, some can be ‘water cooler moments’, snatched conversations in corridors, lunch appointments, others more structured and mindful sessions. The deliberately planned meetings come in two forms. Many are review sessions, where pre-decided plans are discussed, the rest are unstructured, for brainstorming or ideation. In developing Categories, we oscillate between these two. 

Our experience is that Category Design requires a more rapid cadence of decision-making than most execs are used to making. Because Category Design is a strategic change program, it is important that those leading the process, internal or external, are comfortable with both styles of meeting and choose the right meeting time at the right time in the process. 

Earlier in the Category Design process, during the Discovery Phase, there is a lot of information gathering and one way questioning traffic. Around midway through the process, during the Point of View and Category Name phases, there is more emphasis on freeform discussion. Below we share Categorical’s `Rules of the Road` for effective Category Design meetings

‘Synching calendars’ is the most avoidable time bandit. Especially when it is done offline on a never-ending email thread, it eats into productivity. So, finish previous meetings five minutes early and make sure important participants are available for the follow-up meeting. Set the next meeting up before you sign-off.

Circulate a clear agenda early and go through it in Minute One, when a quorum is present. Additional items which are important can be ‘AOB’ at the end of the meeting, or discussed earlier in the agenda, but only if they are a priority.

We mostly use Zoom, Google Meet and Teams (which we prefer in that order) for virtual meetings. They all suck compared to In Real Life (IRL) meetings. Regardless of the tech platform, we all mute, raise our hands to speak and agree at the start of the meeting who is sharing content. Additional ad hoc content is shared in the chat function.

Individuals have different styles of thinking and communication. So it is important all those in the core CD group have air-time and time is not monopolised by Alphas. Strong mediation may be needed to tell an extroverted CEO to pipe down, while their introverted product lead speaks. If this fails, one-off calls can tease out additional points, but these need to be brought into the next full-session with the same weight as if made in the full quorum. This takes skill and diplomacy.

Finally, an additional important point. Much of the work of Category Design is done away from meetings. In quiet moments of reflection, when considering the future state of a market, or unmet customer needs. We especially like weekends for these periods of reflection. Many of our best Categories emerge from time away from the problem. 

We hope this blog, incidentally written early on a quiet Sunday, but subbed during a busy Monday, was useful. Happy to discuss any of the issues raised here live, if not in person, at least efficiently.

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