Archive for the ‘Meetings’ Category

When does a meeting end?

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

When, exactly does a meeting end?

Is it when everybody has left the meeting room? When you leave the room? Or, is it when the time allocated has been exceeded?

In some cases and with some people this is when they’ve lost interest in the proceedings and they tune out and think of other things.

My experience is that it typically ends when the attendees leave and return to their desks or proceed to the next meeting.

Anyone out there got any ideas they’d like to add?

Post a comment, let’s see what comes out of this!

Finish meetings faster by starting slower

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

Seems paradoxical that using up time at the start of the meeting to go over items that aren’t agenda item #1 will give you a shorter meeting in the end.

One of the things we encounter when introducing people to Action Meetings is that they don’t understand why we take so much time at the start of each meeting - and why we repeat this same “time wasting” at each meeting. Surely you only need to do it once - and once we know the Ground Rules do we really have to read them out each time?

Imagine building a house. Why waste time on foundations? You can’t see them so why bother - just get stuck in to putting down a floor and walls and so on. Much faster, yes? No - because it will all start to wobble and break.

It’s just the same with meetings - except that often you can’t see it wobbling and breaking because it’s not a tangible thing. Intangible things, like meetings, need foundations too.

The five or ten minutes we take to get a meeting properly started always pays off in the end.

Rushing into the first agenda item may look like you’re all busy - but there’s a big difference between being busy and being productive.

Meetings not working? Try Meeting Maps.

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

Did you ever notice that some people say an awful lot in meetings and others say almost nothing? Or, that they flow off information seemed to come from one or two people towards everybody else?

Effective meetings tend to have much more even participation and contribution from all the participants (if your meetings have attendees rather than participants then that’s the start of the problem). Meetings are a tool most effectively used for gathering input from as many of the participants as possible.

So how do meetings typically go? One simple way of finding out is to map the next meeting that you participate in. Its very simple, you draw a map.

Meeting Map of Team Meeting

Team Meeting - Guess who’s the boss?

The most efficient way to do this is to;

  • Start with outlining the meeting table and the participants sitting around it, represented by a small circle around the meeting table with the name of each person written next to it.
  • Draw a circle in the middle of the meeting table which represents speech that has been put forward by one person directed to the rest of the group (and not just one person in particular).
  • For each 30 seconds that a person is speaking, draw a line connecting their circle to whoever they are directing their speech to.
    • For instance, if a person is addressing the group as a whole, then draw a line going from their circle to the circle that you have drawn in the middle of the table.
    • If instead they are only addressing one person in the group, then draw a line between their circle and the person’s circle that they are talking to. If they talk for longer than 30 seconds, then draw a second line between the circles and so on until they have finished talking.

At the end of the meeting you should have an easy to read map which will show you who has done the majority of the speaking and those who have refrained from talking.

Meeting Map - Project Meeting

Project Meeting - Mainly Project Manager getting individual updates.

If you would like to send me a copy of one of your maps that would be appreciated. I’ll email you back with  my analysis. We’ll look at what these maps tell us shortly.

When does a meeting start?

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

Not a silly question, really - especially if you’re footing the bill.

When does a meeting start? Is it when everyone has finally arrived in the meeting room? Or perhaps when the group decide to start proceedings, even though one or more of the participants haven’t arrived yet?

The Action Meetings approach to more effective meetings is that a meeting starts when the need for it is identified. From that point on time and money are expended. There is much to do:

  • Who will be there and will add value (not just make up the numbers)?
  • What is the meetings purpose - in other words what outcomes must be achieved?
  • How long should it take? The default time seems to be an hour irrespective of whether an hour is the right length of time, too long or too short!
  • What about the venue?
  • What pre-meeting preparation must occur in order to achieve the desired outcomes?

The list above is not exhaustive - you may well be able to add to it - but it illustrates that a meeting starts well before the participants to get to eyeball one another.

Action Meetings is a method for designing and delivering effective meetings - the end-to-end meeting process not just the time spent in the room together.

Meeting minutes - take hours

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

The conventional wisdom says that thorough and rigorous minute-taking is a requirement for effective meeting practice. In some cases, where there are compliance or other legal reasons for doing so - yes. However, for the vast majority of meetings this is overkill and to have a dedicated minute-taker is an expensive luxury.

I was discussing this with an Executive Assistant who was regaling me with the number of hours that she would be spending taking minutes in meetings and then writing them up. A one and a half hour meeting takes about an hour to write up - in detail - since there’s no point in having a dedicated minute-taker just to write summary notes and action points. That’s 2.5 person hours to produce the record of the meeting.

We recently demonstrated the Action Meetings process to a group of senior managers. One of the features they particularly liked was the way we encourage minutes to be taken. It works like this - use a whiteboard and record the agenda, decisions and resolutions and action points on the whiteboard. If it’s self-copying then press the button with multiple copies and give every participant their copy of the minutes as they leave or take a photo with a digital camera and send to ScanR and then email the images to participants - time taken, 5 to 10 minutes max.

95% of the value of minutes is in the action point list. If you just record them, you’re working smart.

All the above ignores the question - does anybody actually read meeting minutes? Maybe they do - in the next meeting when more time gets wasted discussing whether the hitherto unread minutes are actually an accurate record.

The $75,000+ meeting

Monday, March 31st, 2008

Put sixteen people in a meeting room every week for an hour and a half and you’ve got a meeting that costs in excess of $50,000 per annum - and that’s just for the time in the meeting room. Add in (a conservative) 45 minutes for each participant to prepare and follow up after and the annual cost jumps to $75,000+. How much cost-benefit analysis is done to ensure that this expenditure is, firstly, justified and, secondly, that the returns are produced?

Lunchtime on the Heaphy Track and we were celebrating not being at work. A bunch of workmates from a government department tramping together tell us they are pleased to be missing their weekly meeting. I want to know more. They have escaped a one and a half hour meeting - it used to be two hours but it’s been shortened. The purpose of the meeting is to communicate the work and to share with each other what they’ve done in the last week and what they intend to do in the upcoming week. Sound familiar? Meetings like this go on all over the place - and not just in the public sector.

It’s difficult to assess the productivity of a meeting without attending it to see what actually happens - but, we’ve seen these type of meetings before and in general they don’t deliver as well as they could. Why? Because this style of meeting is created in the hope that if we communicate enough stuff into the meeting then the relevant people affected by what is going on will be listening and then act appropriately. This can work - but it is somewhat random. There is only one participant’s report they are really interested in - and they know all of that before the meeting started - because it’s their own one.

Meetings are costly. Meetings need to be designed to ensure they contain material that is best handled by a meeting  and then run with an efficient process to ensure they deliver the intended results.

Here’s another way to look at the cost of this meeting - two and a quarter hours of meeting time per week (in meeting, preparation & follow up) for 48 meetings a year uses 1728 person hours per year. A full time employee working 37.5 hours a week for 48 weeks a year uses 1800 hours per year. This meeting should be producing equal or more output than one staff member each year to be cost-justified.

One Minute Guide to Planet Earth

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

You can say a lot in a minute. The clip above won a Jury Commendation: here are more examples from Filminute.

What relevance to No WOMBATS? One of the Action Meetings Ground Rules is “be concise”.

“The reality is”: harbinger of dogmatic opinion

Monday, February 25th, 2008

The reality is that the phrase “the reality is” prepended to a statement has to be taken as a warning of an impending dogmatic statement. That statement is potentially highly suspect but lives in the opinion of the utterer as an incontrovertible truth.

Personally, when I hear those words an air-raid siren goes off in my head and I speed to my mental underground bunker to defend myself from an incoming “reality attack”.

Quote me a study, give me fact, bring data - or just give me your opinion unencumbered by false authority.

Your opinion is all that is required: prepending “the reality is” doesn’t add anything. I think it takes away.

Make meeting agenda item timings more flexible

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

Conventional wisdom says that to make a meeting run to time we should allocate time to each item and include in the agenda. We think not.

The common process is to examine the agenda and allocate times to each item based on complexity, the result we want achieved and the importance of the item. We have no disagreement about this part of the process. Here is an example of the resulting agenda (PDF 45kB).

What is the problem with timed meeting agendas? It is the influence of Parkinson’s Law i.e. “work expands to fill the time available.” If everyone knows how much time is assigned to each agenda item then discussion (”work”) will expand to fill the available time.

What’s the alternative? Create two copies of the agenda. One copy includes the proposed times and the other doesn’t.  The facilitator (chairperson) and convenor of the meeting have the copies with allocated times and the rest of the participants just have the items without showing the time. This prevents unnecessary time expansion and provides the facilitator/convenor flexibility if items take longer/shorter than expected.

This device is just one incremental change to the traditional meeting model that saves time and boosts productivity. The full Action Meetings process is a reinvention of the traditional meeting model and provides a significant jump in meeting productivity and satisfaction.

What are meetings good for?

Friday, December 7th, 2007

Given that action points get raised in meetings, you’d think that’s the place to manage them. It isn’t so.

Had a meeting with a senior team in a large organisation yesterday in which we explored what issues they were having with their meetings. There were the usual suspects; poor focus, meeting purpose not properly defined and communicated, incomplete action points, blame game and so on.

Discussion moved to how you deal with action points that aren’t done. That’s a problem of its own but equally interesting is how action points get managed. Their way of managing them is common, we’ve been there in the past, and it’s probable that’s how your organisation does it.

What do they do? They have one of the first items in a meeting being the action point review. You go round the table and tick off the completed items and don’t tick off the incomplete items and probably set a new date for them or get into discussion on how that action point is going to get done.

If you didn’t have any action points this is a tedious waste of time. If you did and you got them done you can report smugly and then suffer the tedious waste of time. The attention and time goes to the non-completion and excuses, blame, waffle and so on. And this is how the meeting begins - where will it go from there?

Meetings are good for items that involve all or at least most of the participants. If there are items, like action point reviews, that are really a report back to a manager role - do that outside of the meeting. Meeting time is too valuable for your participants to be spectators - and often bored ones at that!