Why is it important to shift how we plan and run meetings? Because the organizational cost of preparing for, attending and holding their leadership/management meetings over time is astounding, especially considering a significant share of meetings is simply wasteful. Beyond these hard costs, one must also consider the value lost due to unresolved problems and valuable opportunities missed. If this happened in the operations of your business, it would get immediate attention. The same must apply.
So how do you begin to do that? You begin by changing how you see, think about, and act on meetings. Here are three high-level steps to start the process.
1. Determine if the meeting should be held. If one begins with the premise that the purpose of all meetings should ultimately be the creation of value or enabling the creation of value, then this becomes the first test of whether or not a meeting should be held, not yet, or not at all. Consistently applying this screen forces people to call meetings to be purposeful and intentional when they do so.
2. Set the agenda based on critical questions. The answers to these questions and actions taken on those answers are expected to create or enable the creation of value. This focuses the purpose of the meeting, helps identify who should attend based on their ability to help answer the questions and highlights what is most important.
I believe that these questions largely fall into three buckets:
- Operational questions, often single issues, which are near- or short-term focused and which when answered and acted on deliver near-immediate value.
- Strategic questions, often broader in scope, which are focused on the longer term, and which when answered require both near- and longer-term action to enable and deliver long term value.
- Contextual questions apply to either or both of the above categories are necessary to prevent answering questions and making decisions in a vacuum. The answers to these questions provide insights on actual or potential disruptions and background information on topics like the operating environment, competition, innovation, cultural or other organizational issues, and external factors like regulation and market trends. All these need to be factored in when answering questions whether operational or strategic in nature.
Nothing is always either black or white. Some questions may require spanning both the operational and strategic as often how you execute today must consider positioning for the future. Notably, it is often necessary to dedicate specific meetings to strategic questions to avoid urgent operational questions always overtaking the agenda.
To manage and set expectations, participants should be told if a question is for discussion, to generate solutions, or for making a decision on a course of action and assigning responsibility for execution or some combination of these. This helps guide what you need to do to prepare, our next step.
3. Prepare for the meeting. What does this mean? Participants should be provided with the agenda and foundational material at least a week or more in advance. By providing the agenda and questions early, participants can involve others for their perspective, seek out information and learn more. Communicating and collaborating with colleagues in advance makes the actual meetings more effective and valuable. There may be times when answering a question may require multiple sessions or assignment to a subgroup before reconvening to make decisions.
The bottom line, participants should show up ready to actively participate (not just attend) and contribute to the meeting discussion and should be held accountable for doing so. Simply put, failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Showing up unprepared shows a lack of interest in the issue and a lack of respect for others. Leaders need to lead by example and hold others accountable. If participants are not ready, consider postponing the meeting so as not to waste time.
None of this is rocket science. It can be a big change from how things were previously done. In a world where change and disruption are the norm and where maintaining the status quo is not safe, it’s essential to see, think and do differently. Meetings are a great place to start.
In future installments, I will address how to form and ask critical questions, how to facilitate issue- and question-focused meetings, how to improve decision making and most importantly how to implement and execute answers. Question and issue-focused meetings need to become the new norm. If a company is not learning from, making decisions during, and adapting as a result of these meetings, it is likely slowly (or rapidly) decaying. That’s not a good place to be.
To learn more about how to improve your performance and increase your odds of success by seeing, thinking, and doing differently and/or for advice on how to plan and hold value-creating and value-enabling meetings, click on the Contact tab or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.