#215 from R&D
Innovator Volume 5, Number 5
is principal of TeamWorks PLUS in Monroeviille, Pennsylvania
(phone 412-733-4720), helping people in organizations understand
each other more clearly and quickly so they can all row in the
same direction. She
is author of Meetings: Do’s, Don’ts
and Donuts (Lighthouse Point Press, Pittsburgh, 1994).
at your desk, eagerly pouring over your latest results.
They’re looking good and your mind races ahead. Suddenly
you realize someone has called your name.
You look over your shoulder as a colleague asks, "You
haven't forgotten the meeting again, have you?"
"No! Of course not!
I was just finishing up a few things here," you fib,
groaning inwardly. "What
a colossal waste of time," you think to yourself.
"Why can't they just have their dumb meetings and
leave me alone? It's not like anything ever gets done in them. "
But, you get up and slog down the hall in resignation, muttering
"Garbage in, garbage out--what a waste!"
You long ago accepted the reality that if they let you get
away with skipping meetings that didn't matter, everyone would
want to, and heaven knows that would never do!
your perception that meetings are indeed wasting a lot of your
time. In a survey reported in Industry Week, two thousand
managers claimed that about one-third of the time they spend in
meetings is wasted. The
cost of this waste is staggering. If they spend only fifteen hours
a week in meetings, they’re probably wasting five or more of
those hours. The
impact on their productivity is the same as if they took an extra
six weeks of paid vacation each year!
You can keep track of the time you spend in meetings and
figure your own annual waste factor.
are not condemned to recycling that waste for the rest of your
career. There are
many things you can do to hold (or attend) fewer, shorter meetings
that get better results. The
first step is to look at meetings as a process for transforming
ideas and information into decisions
and actions. From this process perspective, a meeting begins when someone
decides that other people need to be involved in a decision or
collective action of some sort.
It continues through the collective time spent in the
meeting room, and doesn’t end until all the decisions and action
items are completely implemented.
By all reports, the world is full of unfinished
Take a close look
at each phase of the process to trim waste and improve results.
Everyone is aware
of the middle part of the meeting process. Few realize that most problems in the visible meeting
directly result from failures in the preparation phase before
the meeting. Even a lack of results after the meeting can often be
traced to poor preparation, or the G.I.G.O. Principle (Garbage In,
Garbage Out). A three-point checklist can help you ensure a garbage-free
People and Plan.
clear, concise purpose statement lays the foundation for the
success of any meeting. A
powerful purpose statement finishes the sentence, "We are
holding this meeting to..." For example, "... decide
which new CAD software package to purchase," or "...
identify the source of the high deviation rate in the xyz
you have a clear purpose statement, you may find that holding a
meeting isn’t the most effective way to achieve that purpose.
E-mail, memos, phone calls, or distributing reports may get
the same job done, faster and easier.
clear purpose in mind, you can select a concentrated group with
expertise or insight relating to that purpose.
If you are deciding about CAD software, you probably don't
need to include people who won't either be using it or approving
the expenditure. If
you are solving problems, you need to include people with
expertise and knowledge of the process as well as the technology.
If your meeting
group must grow beyond seven or eight people, a trained
facilitator can shorten the time needed to achieve the purpose and
also improve the quality of results.
When different levels of management are involved, a
facilitator is especially helpful in defusing power issues.
for the meeting, commonly known as the agenda, includes logistics
such as time, place, and date.
It also includes a listing of objectives to be achieved, or
anticipated outcomes, and details that will help people prepare
ahead of time to make strong contributions and decisions.
agenda should be circulated to all participants a few days before
the actual meeting. In
practice, this is almost never done.
Research has shown that approximately one-third of all
meetings use an agenda, but almost without exception, if there is
an agenda, it’s simply handed out at the beginning of the
A last minute
agenda is better than nothing, but early distribution can be a
gold mine. As part of
their meeting process improvement efforts at Carnegie Mellon
University's Software Engineering Institute, a ground rule was
drafted that nobody had to attend a meeting if they didn’t
receive an agenda at least 48 hours before the meeting.
Pete Malpass, a staff member,
documented continuous improvement over two years in their
meeting process that has resulted in a cost saving of two-thirds.
He attributes a large part of this phenomenal success to
the now almost universal use of predistributed agendas.
The visible part
of the meeting comprises two modules, Discussion and Decision,
that often cycle through several loops to cover all of the items
on the agenda. For
best results, the discussion/decision cycle needs to be enclosed
within Opening and Closing routines.
Both elements are commonly overlooked.
more than just sitting down in chairs and loosening the jawbones
to make a meeting successful.
Use the following pointers to get your meeting off on the
Start on time. State the time on the agenda and stick to it.
People will soon get the message that you mean business and
readjust their internal clocks to arrive at the designated time
rather than the "real" starting time.
Review the agenda. Bring extra copies for those who arrive without one.
Review the items on it, and get agreement from the group on
the content and time line. Any
time spent negotiating the agenda up front will pay handsome
dividends later in the meeting.
Establish or review ground rules.
Ground rules and the agenda are the two most important
elements for smoothly run meetings.
Ground rules can define the discussion process, i.e., the
length of turns to speak, the role of a facilitator, a ban on
"killer phrases," etc.
Along with a clear purpose and objectives, they serve the
purpose of creating shared understanding of what the meeting is
all about and how it will accomplish its task.
is generally what people think of when they think of a meeting.
Use the following pointers to keep it from becoming a
frustrating waste of time:
• Stick to the
agenda. When people
agree on content and time at the beginning, everyone has a vested
interest in sticking to it. Use
simple refocusing statements like, "That's very interesting,
but it's off the subject. Let's
get back to discussing Item X."
Enforce the ground rules.
This is everyone's responsibility, not just the leader's.
Ground rules are often thought of as a restriction of free-flowing
discussion. Actually, they serve to unclog the flow of thoughts
and ideas, allowing more people greater opportunity to
Think win/win. When differences arise, encourage people to focus on needs
and requirements, not positions.
This leaves room for innovative solutions that may be
better than either alternative.
Record and save lists of ideas that are generated.
People find it easier to stick to the subject when they can
be sure the occasional inspired thought won't get lost in the
can take many forms, and they can be delayed for avoidable
reasons. Use these tips to improve your decisions:
Arrive prepared. One reason to distribute the agenda ahead of time is to allow
people time to ask questions, get approvals, and generally be
ready to decide.
Use the best strategy.
Don't waste time on forming consensus for the sake of a
fad, and don't be arbitrary when you need the enthusiastic support
time on the agenda for a strong close.
If everyone gets up and dashes off just as the last agenda
item concludes, lots of things are likely to fall through the
cracks. Use these pointers for a strong close:
Evaluate the meeting.
This can be as simple as checking the list of anticipated
outcomes to see whether you accomplished them.
Other indications of a successful meeting include starting
and ending on time, and general satisfaction with the process and
Review decisions and assignments.
Make sure everyone understands things the same way.
Plan the next meeting.
If a follow-up meeting is planned, agree now on the basic
agenda and format. This simplifies the leader's job and helps
people plan ahead and stay focused.
One of the most
common complaints about meetings is that nothing happens
afterwards. Ensuring results is a shared responsibility and falls
into three domains: Action,
Communication and Tracking.
happens until somebody does something.
If you say you will, be sure you do.
as circulating the agenda gets expectations aligned before the
meeting, distributing minutes or some report afterward keeps
everyone on the same page. The
meeting report can also inform people who weren't present about
results, and help absent members catch up.
assignments are made, include a date for accountability.
An agreement should be made between the person responsible
for the action and the person overseeing the process on the best
way to track and ensure progress.
guarantee that if you follow all these suggestions, you can take
an extra six weeks a year of vacation.
But it is certain that your meetings will smell a lot
better without all the garbage.
Tips for Individuals
Most of the
suggestions so far have been targeted to people who convene
likely, even if you lead a lot, you attend even more as a
despair. You can have
a positive impact even on these meetings.
MEETING--Ask for an agenda if you haven't received one. Then
decide whether attending the meeting will be a good use of your
time. You may choose
to excuse yourself if you don't have a significant contribution to
make. You may also
recognize that someone else would be as well or better qualified
to take your place. If
you do attend, take time to bone up on the material before the
MEETING--If there is no agenda, take the initiative and help draft
one. Then do what you
can to refocus the discussion on that agenda when it strays.
Ask clarifying questions at the end to review assignments
and ensure everyone leaves with the same understanding of
MEETING--Follow through on any obligations you agreed to.
Assist any way you can in getting the meeting report out
and tracking overall results.