Lead your people Through Good Meetings

We often say that we have too many meetings, that they are a waste of time, or that they are ineffective, – why is that, when in reality if done right, meetings help us ensure we execute our business, live our culture and lead effectively.

army-o-groupI often find when talking to clients and friends that people get frustrated either by either the lack of coordination and direction, lack of accountability to get action, or while their meetings are well intentioned – they are just a ‘talk-fest‘. Something I learnt early on in my military career (and no I am not as old as this photo) as a leader was the importance of being able to discuss, plan and execute operations to achieve a result. A key component of this was to have clear meetings with an agenda, where team members contributed ideas, they were given tasks, and were then held accountable for implementing them.

Later at a more strategic level, it was about being able to have robust discussions about strategic initiatives.  This was about having a level of trust to have conflict that enabled healthy and safe challenging of each others ideas, so that we could make the best decisions for the future of the organisation.

I have since found that these ideas are equally important in business – and while it sounds simple – people often have trouble making it happen, confusing the nature of their meetings, and so end up frustrated. I think it is useful to reflect on what we are trying to do, and then shape or meetings to best effect.

On this topic, Kaplan and Norton, in The Execution Premium suggest:

‘Operational review meetings are typically departmental and functional, bringing together the expertise and experience of employees to solve the issues of the day in departments. They should be short, highly focused, data driven and action oriented.’  While ‘Strategy review meetings bring together the leadership team to discuss whether strategy execution is on track, detects where problems are occurring in the implementation, attempts to determine why the problems are occurring, recommends actions to correct the cause and assigns responsibility for achieving the targeted performance.’

They go to say that, ‘Operational and strategy review meetings help keep organisations on a strategic trajectory for breakthrough performance. The meetings serve different functions, occur at different frequencies, typically have different attendees and have different agendas…..despite the differences in frequency, attendees, and agendas, operational and strategic review meetings share important characteristics. Meetings start and finish on time. Attendance is mandatory so that members build confidence and trust in each other….The meetings are data driven….they spend their time at the meeting problem solving, learning and formulating actions, not passively listening….They encourage frank discussion among all participants…The leader stresses the importance of “what is right” and not “who is right”….Although the idea of separating operational review meetings from strategy review meetings seems both logical and simple to implement, many companies fail to make such a separation.’

I recall as I was about to leave one organisation that I had worked in as  Regional Manager for several years, I got got some feedback that has stuck in my mind.  We had achieved many successes, tried novel ideas, taken risks and built a good culture of getting things done and having some fun along the way – but the feedback was ‘that weekly meeting you introduced has been gold – that was one of the best things we did’.  I have since found that this is supported by the theory of Elliot Jaques in Requisite Organisation, which he stated that regular meetings should be a matter of policy – and personal style is only a matter of how it should be carried out – not whether they should be done or not.  He goes on to say, ‘everyone needs to provide current information, bring discussions to a decision, or be able to explore difficult problems without a decision necessarily being made.  I find that there typically isn’t a need for elaborate minutes, but the capture of any key decisions and a simple Who, What, by When (WWW) matrix helps create accountability, gets action happening and keeps things moving forward.

As a leader, how do your meetings stack up?  Are you getting the best from this leadership opportunity?

Greg is a consultant at Advisory.Works

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