Tag Archives: Organizational culture

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


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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Filed under Business, How To, Influence, Leadership, Trust, Uncategorized

Create, Capitalize on, or Be Capsized by Change


A Leadership Bell Curve

I’d like you to imagine leadership performance as a bell curve. We’ll distribute managers along the curve relative to how well they navigate the sea of market changes. In this scenario, those at the top 10% of the curve are called Superstars and Visionaries. The former possess the lunar strength to control the tides, churning the waves of opportunity. The latter anticipate the big waves and position their organizations to ride the crests. Together, Superstars and Visionaries are a powerful source of competitive advantage for organizations that leverage their talents correctly. We’ll come back to this point in a moment.

Moving along, we come to the middle of the curve. The “bell” is populated by the 80% of leaders who spend their careers feeling the tides of change crashing down upon them. After each wave roars over them, they have to fight their way to the surface. After quickly regrouping, they move immediately to reviving their teams. These leaders work side by side with others to plan and execute sound strategies for capitalizing on the current industry challenge or opportunity. Fueled by the encouragement of their leaders, teams of people swim fast enough in the right direction to successfully catch up to and capitalize on the latest wave in the sea of market changes.

Comparing the Superstars and Visionaries to the other 80% of leaders illustrates the point that the degree of impact the majority of management professionals can expect to have within organizations has more to do with their ability to coach the team than it does with their strength as an individual contributor.

Though they don’t roil the oceans or anticipate the next wave, the leaders who can consistently position their organizations to capitalize on the changes in industry tides are valued and known for their ability to get results.

That leaves us with one more group to consider. The last 10% of the curve is made up of consultants who patiently wait for the 80%ers to reach the beach so they can tell them how to better handle the next wave.

All right, not really. The bottom 10% of the curve consists of managers who react quite differently from the other 90% of leaders. Unlike the picture of hope and triumph described above, the situation at this end of the curve is best described as “every man for himself.” When these managers are hit by a wave of marketplace change, they become focused on self preservation. Leaving their teams to fend for themselves, they tread water in a desperate attempt to keep afloat. Some are washed ashore. Others bob helplessly in the water watching colleagues and staff struggle to survive.

This could be a harsh indictment of individual character, or it could illustrate how people react when they fall victim to circumstance.

Maybe the “self-preservationists” are not naturally narcissistic but rather a product of organizational culture. Restrictive processes, antiquated systems, or a lack of decision-making authority could hinder their ability to lead effectively. It is also quite possible that the members of this group are merely mirroring the behavior of the managers positioned above them in their organizational hierarchy. If the leadership behavior at this end of the curve is largely determined by operating conditions, then it stands to reason that the same is true at all locations on the curve.

As was discussed in the Sources of Influence post last week, we have to be careful not to commit the Fundamental Attribution Error. A person’s actions are not always dictated by character or personal qualities. The environment and conditions under which a person is expected to perform can have a profound impact on behavior and results. This means that someone struggling to survive at the lower end of the bell curve in one organization could actually be a Leader, Visionary, or even a Superstar under more conducive circumstances. Conversely, a change in circumstances could render a Superstar or Visionary in one organization a washed out “self-preservationist” in another.

Committing the FAE can have a drastic effect on an organization’s health. For example, hiring a Superstar or Visionary is not an immediate elixir for economic woes nor is it a guarantee of innovative dominance. The skills and talents of Superstars and Visionaries will only produce results if the people and their ideas are planted in a nurturing environment. On the other end of the spectrum, how many people are fired because their poor performance was attributed to inherent qualities without any assessment of external factors?boats

Whether an organization creates, capitalizes on, or is capsized by marketplace change rests less on the caliber of people at the helm and more on the conditions of the boat they’re given to steer.

How has this played out in your organization’s reaction to the Recession?

How will it impact your organization’s ability to drive or prepare for economic recovery?

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Filed under Business, Change, Leadership