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Research Triangle Business Advisors

May 2013 Newsletter


How practical and profitable was the last meeting you attended at work?  Most people would say, “Not very…”  One survey conducted by a communication consulting company showed that 70% of managers consider many of the meetings they attend to be a waste of time.  At the same time 67% of these managers say they are attending more meetings this year than last year.  One of the common comments was that these were all mandatory meetings.  This month I’d like to propose some steps YOU can take to make your meetings practical and profitable.  I will list 17 suggestions, but if you just focus on any 4 of the 17 you will see a big improvement in your achievement of “practical and profitable meetings.”

Bob De Contreras




Practical and Profitable Meetings

Don’t misuse meetings. We have all experienced the staff meeting – it’s something like 10 AM to 11 AM every Wednesday.  And, our habit is to use that full hour or more every week; even when we have completed the meeting purpose in 10 minutes or a half hour.  Only use the time required to complete the purpose of the meeting.

Don’t use meetings as a substitute for action. Some managers use meetings as a substitute to making tough decisions themselves.  And, for others, it’s hard for them to see the fact that deliberation is seldom a useful management tool.  Often, the meeting completes and the problem has not been solved or the decision has not been made.  The best way to overcome the drawback of meetings as substitutes for action is to demand action from the meeting attendees.  The manager must insist that some decision be reached at the conclusion of the meeting. 

Don’t forget the cost.  Take the hourly, fully burdened, salary of each meeting attendee.  You will quickly see that meetings with 8 attendees can quickly reach a cost of $500.00 per hour or more.  Psychological costs also have a big impact.  Negative impact on moral and the resulting negative impact on productivity can often be a larger cost than the salary.  Then there is the negative impact on reputation caused by customers who can’t reach their contacts because they are in meetings.  What is the cost of those lost sales?  The simplest way to reduce the cost of meetings and increase efficiency is to use an agenda.  Keep to the agenda and distribute it to attendees before the meeting.

Make the purpose absolutely clear.  Meetings are one of two types: informational or problem-solving.  Decide which type your meeting is and don’t mix the two in one meeting.  This will help to keep the purpose in correct focus.  More often than we like to admit, attendees (some or all of them) don’t know the purpose of the meeting.  Even when you think the attendees know the meeting purpose, there is only one way to verify it.  Start the meeting by asking the attendees what they think is the meeting purpose and then compare the responses and re-align the attendees as needed.  This assumes you sent out the agenda before the meeting.

Try a stand-up meeting.  For a straightforward and tightly focused meeting, consider conducting the meeting with attendees standing.  People will be less likely to linger or pontificate.  Examples of where the stand-up meeting would work include: The group needs to respond quickly to an urgent situation, the purpose is to make an announcement, or if the meeting is to assign or reassign tasks.

Invite the right people.  The meeting attendees should meet these requirements:

  • Have some expertise in the issue or project being discussed,

  • Have some involvement or vested interest in the outcome of the meeting,

  • Have skills/experience in group decision-making,

  • Have the overall values of the organization – fit the culture.

Designate specific preparation.  Assigning preparation succeeds in doing two things.  It helps ensure that the meeting will be efficient and effective because you will have all the material and information available; and it increases attendee contribution and involvement in the meeting.

Don’t meet without an agenda.  The agenda should be written and distributed prior to the meeting.  Agenda items should include:

  • List of items to be covered in order of priority,

  • Start and end times,

  • Time for any scheduled meals and breaks,

  • Name of the meeting host and moderator.

Start on time and stay on schedule.  A major objection of meeting attendees is the failure to start and end on time.  Don’t wait a few minutes until the rest of the people get there or you will be starting every meeting late.  If you always start meetings on-time, people will get there on time.  You may need to assign the late comers work during the first 5 minutes of the meeting.  Do that a couple of times and they will not be late again.  If the work scheduled for the meeting is completed early – end the meeting early.

Greet attendees and set the stage.  A simple statement of appreciation to people for participating in the meeting is a considerate way to set the stage for cooperation.  Let attendees know that they were selected because they can provide valuable insights and ideas, and that you respect their judgment.

Reward attendee input.  Never let an attendee’s input go without recognition.  If you don’t, it will smother further input from that person – and others.  Recognizing contributions creates a climate where more will be offered.  A simple “good thought” or “you might be on to something there” can attract further input.  Even a neutral “okay” or “thanks” will open people up to bring more input.

Monitor pressures to stifle ideas.  Two common forms of repressing pressure are individual dominance and groupthink.  Certain individuals quickly dominate a discussion because of their personality, position or personal status.  It is up to the meeting leader to encourage the quiet attendees to participate by asking them questions or a simple, “…what do you think?”  Groupthink is a condition of like-mindedness that tends to arise in groups that are particularly cohesive.  This cohesiveness is usually a good thing, but it can derail the achievement of meeting objectives very quickly.  To minimize and control groupthink, encourage critical thinking in the meeting.  This will drive critical inspection of all ideas, solutions, and perspectives – and reduce groupthink.

Use a structured decision-making strategy.  Failure to work through a problem in a systematic manner is one of the major causes of inefficient, ineffective, and frustrating meetings.  Don’t do any problem solution work until the problem has been fully defined.  That means getting to the root cause of the problem.  Once the problem definition is complete, then move on to the problem solution work.  The key here is to not stop at the first solution you develop.  Find multiple solutions and then analyze, evaluate and prioritize the solutions.  This structure will give you the best solution to the root cause problem.

Be prepared to push-start a stalled meeting.  A good decision-making strategy should help keep the meeting moving along.  However, even the best plans can occasionally stall.  You can push-start a stalled meeting by:

  • Restating the goal of the meeting,

  • Summarizing what has been accomplished so far,

  • Ask everyone for a new approach,

  • Table the discussion until later.  Assign people to think about the roadblock and what might be done to overcome it.

Record and publish the meeting conclusions and decisions.  Once the meeting is drawing to a close, check for consensus and be sure that the group’s recommendations are correctly recorded and distributed.  The distribution of the record is important so that meeting attendees can provide feedback to the meeting owner on anything that may be recorded incorrectly.  English is an imprecise language and feedback is often needed to assure effective communication.

Assign specific follow-up actions.  Be sure that all meeting attendees have their “marching orders.”  A brilliant decision will be of no value if it is not implemented – and the people who made the decision are the best ones to direct the implementation.

Follow-up to be sure assigned follow-ups are completed.  Don’t let assigned follow-up actions slip through the cracks.  Use the meeting record to see who is to do what and note deadlines for each task.  Then send reminder notes or calls before the input is required.  Record each task on your calendar to be sure you follow-up.

The bottom line. At the start of this newsletter I said just pick 4 of the items above to focus on and you will find the result is “practical and profitable meetings.”  I close with a reminder that after you have found this success; pick 4 more items to achieve even more meeting success.

Cary | Raleigh | Research Triangle Park | Greensboro | North Carolina
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