Tag Archives: Meeting Efficiency

The Most Important Part of a Productive Meeting

For those of us working in organizations as employees, vendors, or consultants, the ebb and flow of our time is greatly affected by a schedule of daily meetings.   

Influential leaders recognize, accept, and capitalize on the significance of meetings in everyday work life.

They astutely leverage this valuable time to motivate others to collaborate on initiatives, expedite decision-making, and facilitate the production of needed deliverables. While it is true that influential leaders artfully employ efficient meetings, it is also true that running productive efficient meetings increases personal influence. The Catch-22 is that it is much easier to organize and conduct productive meetings if you have a lot of influence as a leader. That said, people in the process of growing their influence can follow certain protocols to improve the efficiency of the meetings they run in order to enhance their credibility, improve their reputation as someone who “gets things done”, and build trusting relationships with others throughout the organization.

Typically, successful meetings embody some or all of the following characteristics:

  • The “right” people attended
  • Everyone was properly prepared
  • There was a steady focus on the right topics
  • The meeting produced well informed decisions and/or tangible results
  • The meeting outcomes were supported by consistent relevant follow up

Leaders whose meetings consistently model these characteristics carefully attend to the three parts of every meeting:  Preparation, Facilitation, and Follow-thru.

Which part do you think has the greatest impact on the effectiveness and productivity of a meeting?

Anyone who’s had a meeting start late, get off track, fail to produce any tangible results, and then end late knows the price to be paid for inadequate meeting preparation.  It’s important to keep in mind the frustration that comes from attending a poorly planned meeting; especially when faced with the decision of how much time and effort to invest before the participants convene.

Though our tendency is to “borrow” time from meeting planning to be used elsewhere, just know that, more often than not, we end up paying back this time plus interest both during and after the meeting!

Starting with preparation, the posts will cover a set of guidelines for how to plan, facilitate, and follow-thru on productive meetings. For optimum results, these methods should be executed in an environment conducive to and supportive of their application. Though not impossible, it is certainly an uphill battle to implement efficiency strategies in a culture that has grown accustomed to or even promotes counter-productive meeting practices. For more information on the impact of organizational culture on meeting efficiency, you may want to first read Productive Meeting Is Not An Oxymoron and/or Culture: The Organizational 12th Man.

 “Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.” ~A.A. Milne

FIVE PEAS IN A PEAPOD

This is a catchy little device for remembering all of the steps to take when preparing for meetings:

  1. Purpose
  2. Payoff (3 H’s)
  3. Ponder the purpose
  4. People
  5. Process

            Potential Pitfalls

The first step towards a productive meeting is to develop a brief Purpose statement for the meeting. Answer questions such as:

  • Why conduct this meeting?
  • What do we want to achieve?

Once the purpose is clear, determine the meeting’s  Payoff or tangible output:

  • What will participants have in their Hands (deliverables, materials, action plan, etc.)
  • What will they have in their Heads? (knowledge, information, awareness)
  • What will be in their Hearts? (Beliefs, commitments, values)

Based on what you want to achieve with the meeting and the Payoff for the participants, it’s now time to Ponder the purpose. Ask questions such as:

  • Is this meeting really necessary?
  • Is there an alternative way to achieve the Purpose and Payoff without the time, effort, and/or expense of a meeting?
  • Could we get the same results using an alternative method such as email “round robin”, electronic survey, or one-way dissemination of information?
  • If a meeting is required, does it have to occur face-to-face or can it be conducted via teleconference, or video-conference?
  • If the meeting does need to be face-to-face, what is the appropriate venue (specific room requirements, food, AV equipment, on-site, off-site, etc.)?
  • How much time is needed to cover each agenda item? Is the total time required to complete the agenda too much for a single meeting? Can some of the work be accomplished by participants before the meeting?

Once you’re certain that the meeting does in fact need to be held. Your next step is to assess the People part of the equation. Develop a list of people who must attend in order to achieve the meeting’s Purpose. In other words, if there is no way to fulfill the Purpose without the individual, then that person must be there. Create a separate list of people you’d like to have attend or think could benefit or add some value, but without whom the Purpose could still be accomplished.

Before contacting People on either list, take the time to outline the Process you will use to achieve the Purpose. This is a list of the topics that need to be covered starting with a Review of the Agenda and ending with a Summary of the meeting. When you send this out as part of your invitation to participants, include the Purpose, Payoff, and a complete list of People.

A strong influence building strategy is to give the Must Attend participants a preview of the agenda. Ask for their input and ideas. As much as possible, incorporate their suggestions into the final agenda you send out to the group. This will ensure that the individuals critical to the meeting’s success have ownership of the outcome. It’s also an excellent way to secure attendance.

 For the Nice-to-Have individuals on your second list, provide them with a copy of the agenda and take a few minutes to discuss your interest in having them attend and the benefits they can gain by participating. It is important to graciously accept a decline from any of the people on this secondary list. By asking them to the meeting, you are signaling that you recognize their value. Extending them the courtesy of opting out without negative consequence (guilt, griping, grudges), you are reinforcing your understanding of their worth and demonstrating a sincere respect for their time. The trust and rapport you establish with this practice will make it that much easier to obtain their commitment and cooperation regarding future meetings.

You’re not quite done yet; the last step in thorough meeting preparation is to anticipate the Potential Pitfalls. On the tactical side, confirm administrative items such as whether or not the venue selected can comfortably accommodate the attendees. For the more strategic aspects of the meeting, consider questions such as:

  • What questions or concerns could arise about the Purpose, Payoff, or Process? How can these be addressed efficiently either before or during the meeting?
  • What are the “Hot” items that need to be addressed but could end up taking too much time or creating tangential discussions? What can be done to handle these constructively?
  • What items could come up that really don’t have anything to do with the meeting purpose and should not be addressed?

What other strategies have you used to prepare for meetings?

Have you ever experienced an inefficient meeting run by an influential person? What went wrong?

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“Productive Meeting” is Not an Oxymoron

The Stake Out

“Hey,” said Alberts as he struggled to pull what looked like a football wrapped in butcher paper out of his coat pocket. “Anybody want a sandwich?”  Both men shook their heads. “Nah. I’ll just chew on my coffee” said Lewis swirling the dregs in his cup.

“You guys look beat. It’s after 7. What are you doing here so late? What’s the situation?” queried Alberts. Dawes tossed his magazine onto the van floor and stood up to stretch. “We’ve spent all day witnessing a colossal mess of meetings. I haven’t seen anything this bad since that boardroom debacle back in ’98. We thought it was going to be a slow day. According to the room scheduling program, there was a meeting at 8am, one at 10am, an 11am, and then nothing until 2pm with no other meetings after that.” Alberts looked over at the video feed streaming on the laptop screen. A group of distraught looking individuals were huddled at the far end of a conference room. Take-out containers, empty soda cans, and wadded up napkins were pushed into a disheveled mountain in the middle of the long oval table. “So what happened?” asked Alberts squinting at the screen.Meeting

“I’ll tell you what happened” replied Lewis swiveling his chair around. “Our informant completely played down the severity of the situation. This copany is in far worse shape than we thought.” Without pausing to take a breath, Lewis barreled head long into a rant that would make Dennis Miller proud. “The 8am meeting was between Mr. Jenkins, the company President, and his executive team. Three of the eight people scheduled to meet actually showed up on time. Jenkins strolled in at 8:18am with the other four people hurrying in on his heels. It’s their weekly meeting, so no one thought it necessary to put together an agenda. McMichaels, the VP of Operations got hung up on a production issue. Jenkins started brainstorming on the flipchart and before you know it, the 10am group is gathered outside the meeting room watching the executive team through the glass walls. Stevens, a marketing manager leading the 10am meeting, was so intimidated he just stood there without saying a word. Fifteen minutes later, the execs vacate and Stevens finally gains access to the conference room. He had an agenda, which was good. But two people in the meeting never looked up from their BlackBerries. The domino effect of delayed meetings was well underway. The 11am meeting didn’t get into the room until noon. Instead of diving right into it, the group decided to get their lunches. This was no working lunch. We learned some interesting information about everybody’s kids and vacation plans as well as the plot of this week’s NCIS. By the time they started discussing issues, it was 1:05pm. One woman brought up the same production issue that came up in the executive meeting. She would not let it go. No one interrupted her. Halfway through, a guy walked out of the meeting stating that he had to go to another meeting. Having reached no significant conclusions by 2:15pm, the group decided to schedule another time to reconvene on the original points they were supposed to cover. The 2pm meeting participants settled into the room at 2:25p. At 2:26pm, Holt, an analyst, announces that he has a 2:30pm meeting so he can now only stay for a few minutes. Benson joins the meeting at 2:40pm. Despite his efforts at a covert entrance, the whole group stops talking. He explains that he had three meetings booked at 2pm so he decided to attend all three but only stay for twenty minutes in each.” Exhausted from his recount of the day, Lewis swiveled back to the computer screen.

“Wait a minute. Is this the 2pm group still?” Dawes smiled at the shocked look on Alberts’ face. “No man. They cut out at 4:30. This was a quick impromptu gathering that started at 5pm. One of the HR managers asked a few people to join her for a short conversation. She promised it would only take a minute.” “Wow, this company is going to need the full court press” said Alberts as he slumped into a seat. Lewis thought about the true meaning behind Alberts’ words, “the full court press.”

Like so many other companies the Meeting Squad was called in to help, this one was going to need a lot more than just an agenda template and a few meeting ground rules. The heart of the matter lay in the company’s culture. Emanating from the executive team, a host of attitudinal and behavioral miscues had permeated the whole organization. It’s a congenial place to work. Everybody likes each other and no one wants to jeopardize the positive rapport they all share. They’re under a misguided notion that holding each other accountable to meeting rules and etiquette would damage relationships and stagnate creativity. The entire staff has been complicit in allowing meetings to run amok like children at recess. The price is a dramatic loss of productivity and efficiency. However, after years on the Meeting Squad, Lewis knew that “productive meeting” did not have to be an oxymoron. His gaze shifted to the checklist taped to the wall of the van.

The list was titled, Starting with Company Culture. Here’s what it said:

Grassroots: locate people already conducting well-run meetings or find willing converts. Be sure to identify respected individuals with credibility. Designate these individuals as Meeting Champions. Equip the Champions with the tools and techniques to run productive meetings. Check in often to hold them accountable and encourage them through the challenging moments.

Coalition: build a network of influential managers willing to support the culture change initiative. Elicit their help in drafting a Meeting Manifesto outlining guidelines for redefining the company’s culture around meetings. Leverage the influence of the Coalition to gain access to senior management.

Top Down: present a business case to the executive team illustrating the tangible improvements to morale, productivity and output that can be achieved by implementing a company-wide strategy to improve the effectiveness of meetings. Encourage the executive team to edit and help finalize the Meeting Manifesto. Teach the executives the meeting leadership principles and tools needed to make the Manifesto a reality. Earn permission to hold them accountable to communicating the Manifesto and modeling the desired attitudes and behaviors.

Roll-out: when sufficient momentum has gathered around the idea that the meeting culture is changing, train the remaining staff on the tools and techniques required to run efficient meetings. Establish a recognition program to reinforce consistent application of new guidelines and methods. Help departments with their own sub-cultures tailor the meeting norms to fit the nuances of their environment. Continually assess progress and make modifications to incorporate best practices.

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