Is it possible to transform your meetings into productive, focused and energising collaboration sessions?
I recently concluded that I, as I am sure most of you, have come to accept that meetings are unavoidable if I want to progress business issues to a successful conclusion. My meetings are often, too long, painful and, simply put, unproductive. It didn’t take a genius to realise that my bad meetings are usually a result of bad leadership.
Thinking back to my time at Sony, British Telecom and other major firms, my experience lead me to conclude that, the key to improving meetings has nothing to do with better preparation, focused agendas or clear, concise and timely minutes. The first step to transforming your meeting is to understand what makes them so bad. Some meetings lacked drama leading to them being perceived as boring, others lacked context and purpose leading to unfocused meandering with no clarity or outcomes.
Having spent time analysing the problem, I arrived at the belief that there is an inherent level of conflict in every meeting. Negotiation is the art of reaching an acceptable compromise and challenge is always necessary to validate an opinion, a recommendation or a position. I have since found that the key to making my meetings more engaging is to understand and nurture this conflict to an acceptable level. One way I have found to achieve this is to highlight the important issues at the beginning of my meeting. The result of ensuring people focus on the most demanding issues first often creates compelling conflict.
Conflict, however useful, is meaningless if the context and purpose of the meeting are not apparent. At Sony I created context, by attempting to differentiate and separate different types of meetings. It is often easier to throw every possible conversation into one long staff meeting. I found this created confusion and frustration among the team members that struggled to shift between tactical and strategic conversations. Clearly, this increased differentiation can lead to an increase in the number of meetings but well run, focused meetings are normally shorter, involve less people and are output based.
I found that a regular cycle of four distinct and separate meetings worked best for me:
- The Daily Update, a ten minute update to keep the team aligned and provide activity and scheduling updates.
- The Weekly Tactical Management Meeting, a 40 minute meeting focused on issue resolution.
- The Monthly Strategic Senior Management Meeting that focuses on longer term issues that impact the business. This is a meeting where participants are encouraged to brainstorm debate and search for the optimal longer term solution.
- The Quarterly Off-site Review, an opportunity to step away and reassess performance, morale, competitive threats and industry trends.
When I introduced this cycle of meetings into my team at Sony I received the expected push back. Several of my managers asked “How am I going to get my work done if I’m spending all of my time in meetings?” However, the team soon saw that they were spending less time in pointless meetings, less time in one-on-one follow ups, less time cleaning up after something slipped through the cracks.
Now my challenge is to introduce a better meeting culture at Axispoint!