I don’t know about you, but the idea of sitting through a monthly meeting where you mundanely go through a fixed agenda makes my blood run cold. I have even been in meetings, especially after hours, where people have actually fallen asleep – I kid you not!
There is an obsession with following the same format in every meeting where there is a ridiculous amount of time spent by participants reporting on what just happened in the past month – Sales Report, Marketing Report, Production Report, Financial Report, etc. It becomes hypnotically boring and guaranteed to have people playing with their phones or doodling on a writing pad. It’s even more ridiculous when you know that these directors or managers are all working together and should know this information anyway! Why do they need to come to a monthly meeting to find out what they already know? Exactly – it’s ludicrous!
What happens when you repeat the same procedure and expect different results?
The problem is that despite the amount of time wasted in such sessions held all over the world by pretty clever people in the mistaken name of good organisational management, no one actually puts their hand up and says,”Why are we doing this?” Instead, just like some kind of executive lemmings, we keep repeating the same actions over and over just because that was the way it was always done and somehow expect it to work. (And I say ‘we’ because I did it too until I learned about a more effective approach.)
Okay, there are situations where, if you have non-Executive Directors or visiting attendees at a meeting, there is a requirement to have some form of communication or reporting process, but then why not just call it what it is? A Reporting Session – and in that way, expectations will be set and clear communications will be the only focus.
Meetings, and Management/Board/Executive Meetings, in particular are about decisions. Decisions and the actions arising from them are what move a business or organisation forward. Meetings that focus entirely on problem-solving and decision-making are quicker, more engaging, more inclusive and, as you might imagine, more effective.
So how do you set up such a meeting?
Create an agenda based upon the issues that need to be addressed or problems that need to be solved by setting each agenda item up as a question.
- Sales are down by 10% this month. Why? What action should we take to address it?
- Approach re Joint Venture from Competitor. What are the pros and cons? How do we respond?
- Evaluation of new product design is completed. Do we proceed to the production phase? If not, what else do we need to know to make a decision?
The only ‘catch’ is that the creation of the agenda questions in advance requires some work, and the nature of the issues and questions will vary from situation to situation, but the principle is the same. Management meetings are for problem-solving and decision making. If communications still need to be a part of it, then make it a very small part by getting most of the reporting done in advance. Then, focus all of the collective brain-power and creativity of the assembled team on debate, discussion, problem-solving and the resulting decisions.
What are the benefits?
In each client situation that I have managed to get such an approach introduced, it has made a colossal difference to the length of meetings, the level of engagement of the attendees, the sense of teamwork that it creates, improved quality and clarity of the decisions and team commitment to the solutions.
That said, it is not something that is easily embraced, especially the agenda preparation part – old habits die hard – despite the compelling evidence to illustrate the huge benefits.
It is definitely worth looking at and I would be happy to illustrate it further if you want to drop me an email. In addition, ‘Death by Meetings’ by Patrick Lencioni is a really good book on the concept and the process.
PS: This approach is also effective when you are working on your own and want to address the key decisions and actions in your own life and/or business. You start by creating your question-based agenda and then, in the place of a group discussion, you just write out your own deliberations and decisions.