Sunday, July 11, 2010
This is the question we pose at the start of our “Effective Meetings” training sessions. In the 12 years I’ve been in the training business, I’ve worked with literally thousands of people. And you can probably guess the response we usually get to this question—a rating of 2 or 3, on average. “On a scale of 1 to10, how would you rate the value of the average meeting at your organization?”
The follow-up question is equally provocative: “Have you ever calculated the cost to your organization of those meetings?”
The response is always the same. With knowing grins, everyone in the room nods and reflects on the astonishing costs of putting three, four, or more, well-paid individuals into a room for that regular “staff meeting.”
And what’s just as astonishing is that we’ve grown to accept mediocrity when it comes to meetings. Like the proverbial “boiling frog,” we’ve become gradually accustomed to meetings as a necessary evil, a mind-numbing experience, and a purgatory we must endure before we can get back to our “real“ work.
In his book, Death by Meeting, Pat Lencioni explores this organizational phenomenon. He suggests that meetings are a reflection of a firm’s culture, and it’s up to its leaders to inject some life and energy into meetings. To do this, Lencioni suggests using the techniques of a Hollywood movie; he teaches companies how to engage their audiences (that is, their meeting attendees) with drama, urgency, healthy conflict, and “the hook,” the all-important opener that grabs the attention of meeting participants.
If you want to see an effective meeting in action, visit YouTube and search for the 1800GotJunk Daily Huddle. This Canadian firm is admired around the world for its business processes, including its high-energy, seven-minute, standup meetings.
Just like the beat of a good jazz band, healthy organizations need a rhythm. A regular structure of daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly meetings create “the beat” to harmonize and align everyone’s work activities.
Verne Harnish, in his book Mastering The Rockefeller Habits, devotes a whole chapter to the structure of meeting rhythms. Harnish details the huddles that Edward D. Rockefeller held daily with his leadership team as he built the Standard Oil empire.
Daily AND Weekly Meetings? Are You Crazy?
Interestingly, a predictable structure and frequency of daily huddles and weekly meetings can actually reduce your time in meetings. It seems counterintuitive, but if your team can eliminate most of the adhoc, interruptive, and “have you got a minute?” get-togethers by “batching” their communication for the next scheduled meeting, they can reduce their total meeting time.
One tool we suggest to our clients (and that we use ourselves) is to maintain three rosters that anyone can add items to and that will be reviewed at each meeting. The rosters are for:
- Roadblocks – issues that are keeping me from getting my work done.
- Suggestions – ideas I have for making things better.
- Lessons – something I’ve learned that I want to share with the team.
Creating Clear Objectives
All meetings have to have a clear objective, right? If you haven’t heard this before you’ve been living under a rock! But just setting a topic isn’t enough. Something like, “Discuss the Palliser Exploration Program,” isn’t results-oriented and won’t create the necessary level of focus.
The Outcome Statement should be used when planning and starting any meeting. It says that every meeting should begin with an unmistakable commitment, such as, “By the time we leave this meeting we will have . . . ” This approach gets everyone on the same page. It also provides for a ready evaluation at the meeting’s end, when we ask, “Did we achieve what we set out to?”
The Test – Do We Need to Meet?
Another way to make meetings more valuable for everyone is the “Do we need a meeting?” test. Once the objectives are established, as described above, simply ask the question, “Is there a way, other than with a meeting, that I can achieve my purpose?” For instance, if it can be achieved with a one-way communication to the team, maybe a well-worded memo or recorded presentation would suffice. Then any follow-up meeting to make decisions and take actions related to the information can be more focussed.
Much has been written about meeting agendas, processes, roles, and minutes, but if I were to pick the three key elements that make a meeting more valuable, they would be:
Clear objectives – Use the Outcome Statement described above.
- Timekeeping – Everyone is “time-poor” these days, so make it an organizational habit to start and end meetings on time, and allot time to each agenda item or topic. This is more than just convenient—it shows respect and professionalism toward your teammates.
- Who/What/When – Make and maintain a list of agreed-upon actions. Use a simple “Who/What/When” table to capture each item so there is absolute clarity about each person’s accountabilities.
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