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Lean Your Meetings

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The Tool and Why it’s Valuable

The bane of modern professional existence is the meeting.  An informal survey of 10 mid-level and senior State of Colorado leaders yielded that they spent more than 50% of their time in meetings, leaving little time to actually drive improvement in their operations.  

Meetings, however, do serve a purpose.  They’re how we share our views, how we debate alternatives, and how we communicate priorities.  The key, then, is making sure that you engage in the right meetings and that each one is effective.

Analyzing your team’s meeting schedule will identify opportunities to reduce the investment you’re making in meetings and enable more time for driving improvements, including process changes, training/coaching, etc.

Evaluating the effectiveness of the preparation, conduct, and follow-through on each meeting is an on-going process to ensure that the time you do invest in meetings in well-spent.  

How to Apply It

  1. Gather your team, asking each of them to bring print-outs of their calendars for the past 4 weeks.
  2. Develop a master meeting matrix, listing the title of each meeting, its purpose (why), the product (what comes out), people (who attends), timing (when), and frequency.
  3. Analyze the full matrix to develop “RE-commendations,” opportunities to RE-duce attendees, RE-time the frequency, RE-design the meeting to decrease duration, RE-align the timing with other meetings, etc.
  4. Develop a listing of the agreements reached and total the hours saved for each individual or role.  This may also involve adding the meetings we SHOULD be having but don’t presently have the time for.
  5. Get staff to make specific commitments on how they are going to use new capacity.
  6. Work with your team to establish standards for each remaining meeting and evaluate each for their effectiveness against the “Six Tips for Awesome Meetings” (page 2).

Pearls and Pitfalls

  • Meetings are often a common means of informal information exchange.  Adopt alternate means to ensure that this information is still transmitted.
  • Meetings, where participants stand, are short meetings.
  • Be honest about the degree of interdependencies between functions.  Some things require teams to deliberate, for others it is an “FYI” for alignment and support.
  • The RE-commendations approach can help reduce workload as well, since work can be RE-designed, RE-assigned, etc.

Example of Creating RE-commendations

Meeting Title
Purpose
(Why do We Meet)
Product (Result of the Meeting)
Frequency and Duration
Attendees
RE-commendations
(RE-time, RE-duce, RE-design, RE-align, etc)

Training Requirements Meeting

Decide on training needs and approach

Training actions and timing

Weekly for 1 hour

Jane + Supers (Tim, Pedro, Tom, Je’nae, Joan) + Leads (Andre, Mei-wen, Tony, Paulina, Trey, Juana)

RE-time:  Move this to twice monthly (Save 1 hour per team member).

Jane’s Staff Meeting

Share SLT flow-down information and cover misc topics

Various

Weekly for 2 hours

Jane’s staff (all Leads and Supers)

RE-design:  All topics have pre-developed memo or topic is tabled until the next meeting (shorten to 1.5 hours).

Issue Review Meeting

Review exception reports

Approved exceptions

Weekly for 1 to 1.5 hours

All Supervisors and Leads

RE-assign: Delegate this meeting to the Leads; publish findings after meeting

Budget Expense Review Meeting

Review budget to actual across 10 categories

Actions to realign expenditure to budget

Monthly for 1.5 to 2 hours

All Supervisors and Leads

RE-align:  Integrate this item into Jane’s staff.  Budget team to publish an exception report before meetings.

Key Tips*

  • Learn this equation. No leader + no documentation + no follow up = waste of time. Every meeting has to have a leader, a stated purpose, a start and end time, and a valid reason for each and every person to be there. The leader documents conclusions, plans, actions, then follow up. 
  • Do you even know what you're doing? Every leader should know how to run effective meetings, like how to set ground rules for constructive engagement, how to use tools like Parking Lots to take issues offline, and how to bring people to consensus.
  • Have them in the afternoon. I once read in a Scott Adams Dilbert book (no, I'm not kidding) that people do their best work in the morning, so you should have meetings in the afternoon. I asked my staff and they agreed unanimously. Turned out to be a great move. Also, most people are more relaxed after lunch. Don't ask me why.
  • Beware the hive mentality. I've worked with companies where executives were double and triple booked in meetings most days and managers were required to have weekly one-on-ones with their boss and staff (and monthly with peers). How in the world do CEOs expect their management teams to get anything done that way?
  • Lose the hallway meetings. Founders and other start-up executives are often fond of ad-hoc hallway meetings. The problem is that decisions are made without input from key stakeholders. Sometimes that's a smokescreen for passive-aggressive behavior. Other times it results in strategy du jour. Either way, it destroys organizational effectiveness.
  • Challenge the status quo. If you run a periodic staff meeting, occasionally ask your team what you can do to improve it and help make them more effective. You'll usually get at least one good suggestion and your folks will appreciate it.

*Source:  Steve Tobak, Inc. Magazine, “6 Tips for Awesome Meetings,” Feb. 2013

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