We all know the tools and practices that, when used, make meetings effective; however, when we’re meeting with the same people day after day and year after year, the overhead associated with preparing for and following up on every meeting can feel like wasted time.
However, as someone who’s made a living coaching executive teams to meet stretch goals – I observed that every executive team who consistently used the following tools and practices (either before or after a consulting engagement) achieved, if not exceeded their goals.
Agenda: Every meeting should have an agenda –even if it’s a recurring meeting and the agenda is written on a white board. The agenda should include the purpose for the meeting, what topics will be covered, who’s responsible for each, a review of action items, and a brief time at the end of the meeting to assess the meeting’s efficacy.
The act of preparing an agenda allows the leader or facilitator the opportunity to organize the material prior to the meeting and think through the specifics. Distributing the agenda prior to the meeting allows and implies that each attendee know the purpose of the meeting and what they’re responsible for presenting or discussing.
Time: Meetings that start and end at the top of the hour typically insure that those attendees who have a meeting in the next time slot are late. A simple remedy is scheduling meetings to start at the top of the hour but limiting meetings to 50 minutes instead of an hour.
Because meetings can consume so much time, many companies have implemented a block of time each day that’s meeting free to allow their employees a full block of time each day to focus on their particular task at hand. Other companies have gone even further and designated a day each week and made it meeting free.
Intuitively, either of these practices should improve productivity as they reduce the need for employees to multitask. Most of what’s been written, however, focuses on a resultant improvement in employee morale – in many companies a desired outcome.
Metrics: There should be a metric or set of metrics that drives the focus of every meeting.
This is the practice that, when implemented in a company where it previously hadn’t been used, gets the most pushback but also gets the most dramatic results.
Often the pushback comes from a previous experience when the metrics used didn’t directly tie activities to results. Many companies get so enamored with metrics that they take on a life of their own. What started out as a great idea can result in page after page of metrics that are expensive and time consuming to produce.
The Goal, (Eli Goldratt, Green River Press, 1984) written in 1984 about the principles of manufacturing the basic premise is that the goal of every business is to make money.
Using Eli’s premise, any meeting whose purpose is to ensure the business makes money can be measured. The weekly Chief Operating Officer’s staff meeting can review cost of goods sold, on-time deliveries, and cost of poor quality. The Vice President of Sales staff meeting reports year to date sales against plan. Even the Planning Committee for the Christmas party can review employee attendance to turnover, year over year, against venues and types of parties.
Action Items: Every action item, to whom it’s assigned and a commitment date for completion should be captured at each meeting. Each meeting should also include a review of the open action items. When an action item is closed, a brief description of the resolution should be entered either in the minutes or in an actions complete register.
Score: At the end of each meeting, each attendee (except the facilitator) should be asked to provide a score. That score should be published in the meeting minutes for that meeting.
The responsibility of scoring a meeting forces each of us to weigh in on what we’re doing well and where we can improve as a team. When we’re not asked our opinion we can leave a meeting with an idea for improving a lingering annoyance unspoken.
The leader or facilitator of the team should consider those comments and look for opportunities to incorporate the suggestions into future meetings.
One of the most telling comments that demonstrates this phenomenon is one that’s sometimes used as a criticism of consultants: “You haven’t told me anything I didn’t know.”
What’s so telling about that comment is that, many times a consultant is telling you what you already knew because, for some reason, the leader of the team didn’t address a known issue or a team member didn’t speak up and ask that the issue be addressed.
Minutes: Minutes should be published for every meeting by the end of the day the meeting takes place. Minutes don’t need to be elaborate or time consuming to prepare. All that’s really necessary is who attended, what decisions were made, the meeting score and comments. The updated action item list should be included with the minutes.
Taking a few extra minutes to draft an agenda for the next meeting and including it with the distribution of the minutes allows team members to review the proposed agenda and provide input setting up a cycle of improvement for subsequent meetings.
There are other tools and practices in place in most organizations that help insure meetings are effective and organizational goals are met but this is the set that seems to be the predictor for accomplishing stretch goals.
Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups. Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in early 2017.