Communication for Collaboration

One of the challenges for project teams where there is collaborative between different organisations and professionals is the lack of a common language. We all use short cuts in our language and descriptions within our own circles and it is easy to assume that others will understand you without needing any further assistance.

As facilitators we will often run sessions at project kick off meetings to help explore the project goal or problem by explaining it by using visual methods. One of our more challenging recent projects has been to bring together people working in the energy industry, systems engineers and academics to agree the research programme needed to develop an energy system for the UK.

The breakthrough for our client and for the participants was an early activity when we invited participants to explain the challenge of the future energy system by creating a model. Our client from the UK Energy Systems Catapult team commented that for him the highlight of the event was

“watching the construction and explanation of models of the energy system put together using balloons, card, pipe cleaners and sticky back plastic”

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Initially he had been concerned that this activity would be too radical and too “playful” for this group of senior professionals but he realised how the activity helped created a level playing field for the communication across all the different professions in the room.

We agreed that created a shared visual understanding enabled the group to work more constructively together so that they were able to complete the task of creating the future research programme and were able to build potential collaborations for the future.

We only get out the pipe cleaners if they have a clear purpose, there are many other ways to explore a topic to reach a shared understand and the power of visual communication can really help with your team collaboration so take a risk to communicate differently!

Christine Bell

http://www.centreforfacilitation.co.uk

Making Business Meetings Productive

Business meetings are often limited to 1 to 2 hours. They need to be tightly controlled to avoid overrunning and to make sure that you make effective use of everyone attending.

Contrary to some popular belief, meetings can be useful if run effectively.  Many organisations use meetings well to:

  • Have a dialogue to reach a decision of importance the organisation/project/team
  • Identify key themes for a future strategy or plan
  • Share challenges and explore options to address these

Last night was a significant achievement for the club. We made key decisions about important issues and were finished by 9.30. There were smiles and people are now looking forward to future meetings. Thanks for helping us to change the way we do things – Paul Luxton

To create a useful meeting a few simple steps can help you along the pathway to productivity.

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Clarify the Purpose

What is the meeting for? Too many meetings exist because historically they have always done so. In the days before electronic communication meetings were an effective way of getting a message out to everyone at one time but to just use a meeting as a one way information giving forum is a total waste of time. Using email, social media and discussion boards will achieve this end more effectively.

Once you are clear on the purpose of the meeting you can decide who needs to be involved and then get down to the business of setting the agenda about what needs to be discussed. Check out ABC of meetings

Manage the Agenda

Your agenda for your meeting is an essential planning tool. It should set out why each item is being discussed, what outcome you need from the meeting (eg a decision, a commitment for action) and should give an allocation of time based which is agreed with the item presenter.

We intervened with a community sports group who had a regular business meeting which started at 7.45 and often did not finish until 10.45. The team recognised that they had a problem and that “the kind of meetings we have now are neither enjoyable, productive or sustainable”.

We worked with the chair and secretary to analyse the last three meetings and to review the purpose of their face to face meetings. We used this to create a list of guidelines to club members setting out the criteria for bringing items to the committee and some other options that could be used to disseminate information.

The result was that the following committee meeting had a limited agenda and was over in 1.5 hours leaving the committee time to talk to each other and socialise, sharing their love of their sport.

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Reviewing agendas

Making Decisions

Most items discussed at a meeting will result in a decision. Be clear about whether that decision needs to be made by a majority vote or by reaching consensus. If aiming for consensus you need to provide more time to allow clarification of concerns to be raised and have a clear process to follow

A major engineering project was starting to fall behind schedule due to communication issues and conflict between the three project teams. We facilitated a process so the teams could outline their expectations of each other’s behaviour. It was important that everyone was involved in the decision about behavioural expectations so we used the colour consensus cards so people could flag green for agreement, red for disagreement and yellow for some concerns.

Items were only accepted if we could reach a mainly green/yellow consensus. If there were any red cards showing after the consensus discussion the item had to be put to one side.  Although this is not a quick process it does make sure that only items that have full commitment are agreed to.

Other methods to make decisions are to take a vote of members and make the decision based on the majority viewpoint.  In smaller groups it is better to ask each attendee to state their position by going round in turn. This can help the views of the minority be heard and also makes it harder to make a decision because the chair assumes everyone is in agreement.

We worked with a community gardening project who had reached stalemate on a decision, they just could not reach consensus. We guided a structured process to explore both the advantages and disadvantages of the two options and then did a final round to hear what everyone’s preference was for. It was clear that the majority preferred one option and it was helpful for this to be heard so that although consensus could not be reached the two members who opposed the option were able to accept that this was the overall preference for the whole group and they stepped back from their opposition.

“I know we did not reach a consensus and we are losing two people but this has happened in a moving forward and respectful manner” Roxanna Summers, Back to Front

Allocate Actions

A meeting with no action is pointless. You also want to avoid the actions all being allocated for one person (often the chair!) Two tips which often help are:

  • Prepare a wall chart with everyone’s name on it and then space for actions to be recorded against their name, this avoids some leaving the meeting with lots of actions and some with none. It makes it very visual and can help to prompt the chair to remind people to commit to a specific action.
  • The chair of the meeting can respond proactively to comments made during the meeting to convert these into action – “thanks for that x, can you follow that up with x and email out the outcome, we will record that in the action plan”

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Minutes

The minutes can be drafted in advance based on the purpose of each item so they use the agenda to shape an introduction to each item and the purpose of the discussion and then record the actions to be taken.

It is useful to summarise the planned actions in an action plan as well so that there is an easy document to track progress before the next meeting.

Part of the planning for the next meeting will involve the chair or secretary reviewing the agreed actions and checking on progress so this can be minuted in advance of the meeting and a very short verbal overview given.

Review what went well and how to improve

At the end of the meeting set aside 5-10 minutes to share what worked well and to give constructive tips for the next meeting. Read our blog on Agile Team Working – making time to talk

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If you would like one of our facilitators to talk to you about how to make your meetings more focused, engaging, productive and shorter then give us a call.

 

Why People Resist Change

Resistance to change is the act of opposing or struggling with modifications or transformations that alter the status quo in the workplace.

 Reading an article I was reminded what a great impact resistance to change can have on the success of a change programme.

82% of contributors indicated that the main reason for change failing was resistance to the change .

In 2011 Bauer And Erdogan classified resistors based on individuals reaction to change.

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Attitudes to Change

Active resistance is the most negative reaction to a proposed change attempt.  Those who engage in active resistance may sabotage the change effort and be outspoken objectors to the new procedures.  In contrast, passive resistance involves being disturbed by changes without necessarily voicing these opinions.  Instead, passive resisters may dislike the change quietly, feel stressed and unhappy, and even look for a new job without necessarily bringing their concerns to the attention of decision makers.  Compliance, however, involves going along with proposed changes with little enthusiasm.  Finally, those who show enthusiastic support are defenders of the new way and actually encourage others around them to give support to the change effort as well.

The reasons why individuals show passive or active resistance to change are:

  • Disrupted Habits Individuals often resist change for the simple reason that change disrupts our habits.  Habits make life easy.  For this simple reason, people are sometimes surprisingly outspoken when confronted with simple changes at work.
  • Personality Some individuals are more resistant to change than others. Some may view change as an opportunity to shine others as a threat that is overwhelming. For individuals who are risk-avoidant, the possibility of a change be more threatening.
  • Feelings of Uncertainty Change inevitably bring feelings of uncertainty. The feeling that the future is unclear is enough to create stress for people because it leads to a sense of lost control.
  • Fear of Failure Individuals also resist change when they feel that their performance may be affected.  Those who feel that they can perform well as a result of the changes are more likely to be committed, while those who have lower confidence in their ability to perform after changes are less committed.
  • Personal Impact of Change Individuals tend to be more welcoming of change that is favorable to them on a personal level such as improving their quality of life or work life balance, or removing conflict.
  • Prevalence of Change Any change effort should be considered within the context of all the other changes that are introduced in a company. If other recent changes have failed there will be an increased resistance to further change.
  • Perceived Loss of Power One other reason individuals may resist change is that change may affect their power and influence in the organization. Any loss in prestige and status, even if only perceived will result in resistance to the change.

Do we do enough when managing change to support those showing resistance to overcome their concerns and increase the number of enthusiastic supporters?

Taking the fact that 82% of change fails as a result of resistance to change as an indicator; there is a need to do considerably more than we currently do.

Ensure you have the capacity to spend time with individuals.  Take the time to understand:

  1. What the specific changes will include
  2. Who the changes will impact
  3. How these changes will impact on an individual basis
  4. Why each individual might resist the changes

You will then have a degree of empathy to support each individual with his or her specific concerns and follow this understanding up by:

  •  Having open and honest conversations
  • Giving a strong and powerful rationale for change
  • Creating opportunities for collaborative working
  • Involving those that do the work in shaping solutions to problems
  • Agreeing how to continue to support the individual and commit to follow-up
  • Keeping anything shared in confidence to yourself

To discuss ideas for how to get people more engaged with changes before, during and after implementation contact us

Lucy Brownsdon, Director, Centre for Facilitation

Time to Innovate

One of the reactions to our stories of facilitating the EPSRC Sandpit process is surprise about the amount of time that it takes. A fully formed Sandpit/Innovation Lab is a five day event which is a fully immersed residential community experience. There is a process to which provides a different focus for each of the five days and as facilitators we keep the process keeps moving forward so that at the end of the event the funding decisions can be made in a robust and fair manner.

Clustering Ideas Open Space

If you put a group of people in a room and tell them to come up with a new and totally radical idea that has never been thought of before it will take time. Initially people will share ideas that they were already thinking about. By using a process of reflection, challenging, discussion and creative thinking a process can start where these ideas get put to one side allowing space for the truly radical insights to emerge.

Developing Ideas Groupwork

It is possible to do innovation events in shorter periods of time. Sometimes a few hours is all that is available to bring people together to develop new ideas for products, services or research. The time together allows people to start to share emerging ideas, to develop these ideas and to then go away either individually or in teams to work up these ideas into a project/idea proposal.

Using a short burst approach works well if the follow up is part of the process. We work with groups to make sure that by the end of the “innovation lab” workshop  initial ideas are captured. These are written up and shared with the group. Further follow up conversations are initiated to see which of these ideas are worth exploring further. Having a presentation event planned for 6 weeks after the innovation event can provide enough of a focus to keep the momentum going and allow people time to further develop their ideas before sharing them for consideration for further funding or research.

To discuss ideas for Innovation events contact us directly

 

Collaborative Venues

Very frequently, whilst we are starting to plan workshops / events with our clients, the discussion incorporates ‘where shall we hold this event?’
At one level there are the usual practical considerations, including cost, ease of access, capacity and facilities at the venue, cost etc! At another level, we consider the opportunity the location and environment provides to enhance the event itself. A few examples in the past couple of years illustrate the point

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• A Programme Manager needed a project group, composed of very technically competent specialists to understand the interrelationship between their disciplines and how the various parts of the project formed the whole mosaic. In this case a countryside location, remote, but accessible and modest, was chosen for their monthly two day project review workshops. The two days together in a remote location enabled the team to leave behind the shackles of the day-to-day workplace. It enabled collaborative working so that the specialists were able to deliver coherent and highly effective solutions.

• A team needed to develop their Customer Relationship Management capability so we held their workshop at a conference venue that shares space with an up-market repair centre for prestigious cars. The venue provided a great opportunity for participants to see first-hand how the repair centre went about its work – and particularly to see the attention to detail that really makes a difference and generates referrals and repeat business.

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• We worked with the Energy Strategy UK team to explore the future of transport energy. The workshop was held at a Transport Museum in Coventry. This venue provided an insight through a tangible record of transport energy in the past. In the workshop design we incorporated activities using these resources to ‘hover above’ today and look back and look forward. A great stimulate to innovative thinking.

Photo competition

• Another client, passionately seeking for innovation in the Long Term Care of people, chose a location that enabled visits to be made to local venues to provoke thinking. For example, the visit to a local horticultural nursery, highlighted the motivation and dedication of the plant specialists, for many of them their work was much more than a means to earn money.
A well-chosen venue can support the overall theme of an event and can become part of the process. Seeking out interesting locations is a challenge but can often add real value to the event.

Nigel Chapman

This will change you

At the start of our recent five day Innovation Lab event in Norway our project Director Nick Tyler outlined an expectation to the 27 participants that what ever the outcome of the event, whether their project got funded or not …“this event will change you”
Indeed for our participants, many of whom were in the early stages of their careers, the event was a profound and life changing experience. They learnt through practical activities and experience how to work collaboratively with people who were from different backgrounds and had very different mindsets and experiences. They learnt how to move from creative thinking into a peer review process where they were in competition with other colleagues for funding.2016-01-15 13.22.47

But for me as an experienced facilitator who has worked on many of these projects over the last six years did this statement hold true? I think sometimes we can forget that experience does not make you immune to change and now 2 weeks after leaving the land of snow I realise that I have indeed changed

  1. Connecting with my Inner Joy for Facilitation2016-01-14 09.46.37

Working with this international group was just so liberating. From the beginning our client, the Norwegian Research Council were positive and supportive about the designs for the event. The were interested and engaged but did not seek to over control the design process so I was able to think truly creatively about concepts like the swimming pool assessment and the city of Earth 2.1. As our team introduced an activity there was a buzz of excitment and a real willingness to give things a go. The energy made facilitating a real joy and not a process to work through. I realised how much I enjoy working in the area of creative innovation and it made me think about how I can really focus on this as a specialist area now I am back in the UK

2. Taking Time to See the Sky

Like many people in the UK, even as a northerner, I still get so excited about seeeing snow and there was so much of it! Often our facilitators end up never going outside the venue at this type of event but we agreed this time to make sure that both us and the participants got to see the Sky every day. This was such a special time for me, just stepping out from the process and trusting that the rest of the team would continue to keep things moving forward without me. In those brief moments I connected with my sense of what was going on and was able to generate further creative thoughts to keep the process and me fresh.2016-01-10 10.40.31

3.Celebrating our Cities but Changing Them

i have always lived in cities all my life and like most city dwellers I have a love/hate relationship. Hearing this theme explored by the brilliant mind made me challenge my concept of the city and be open to different ways that I might both live and interact with my city in the future. Coming back to the UK I went over to Manchester for work where I saw for the first time “Tent City”. This was not exactly what we had in mind when we talked about a flexible city but clearly our rigid city structures are just not able to cope with the demands on them and the option of living in a tent next to the centre of one of our big Northern Powerhouse Cities seems to be the only option available to a large group of people. Being part of the Innovation Lab made me really think more about why this can happen and what can be done about this

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So thanks Nick for your words, I am indeed changed and thanks to everyone involved in the Cities of the Future Idelab for giving me reasons to change my thoughts and my behaviours, I return to the UK stronger, clearer and more energetic than before and ready to support teams in the UK to make our world a better place.

Not Everyone wants to Talk First

If I asked you to imagine a team discussion or meeting where the purpose was to generate new ideas you might have in your head an image with the following elements:

  • One person at a flip chart with a pen
  • Several people shouting out their ideas
  • The paper being filled with lots of ideas
  • A pause when no one says anything and then someone asks “is that is everything?” Everyone agrees it is and then the group decides which idea to take forward
  • At a large-scale event this might then be followed by a plenary session where all the different groups take several minutes for their spokesperson to describe what they have talked about and to share their best ideas.

For some of you this sounds all so normal and acceptable and even enjoyable. Other people reading this will be shuddering at the thought of having to take part in these brainstorming/workshop rituals. It does not have to be like this! Whilst some people are really comfortable in sharing their thinking out loud with a group of strangers, and some may even thrive on it, others quickly lose their energy and cannot make any creative contributions. The dangers can easily be that a solution is agreed by the group which only represents the views of a few people, a form of Groupthink that is well described by Dr Pete Stebbins in his article.

Techniques that Help

When I work with a group of people I am always consciously thinking about ways to make sure that the voice of many does not get squashed by the voice of the few very vocal people

  1. Thinking Time

Give people some personal time before a group activity. It need only be 2-3 minutes, but this provides enough time for people to take stock individually and to write down initial ideas.

  1. Structured Sharing

Provide a process for sharing the ideas in groups – for example by setting an expectation that each person will share one idea each and only when all these ideas have been shared and grouped do you go round the group again.

  1. Purposeful networking

Instead of speed networking offer more structured activities that will enable people to have more purposeful conversations. We used a highly structured “crowd sourcing” interview method and for social events our “dinner dialogue” cards work well.

  1. Moving groups and space

Build in time in longer programmes for people to take some time out by going for a walk and talk break outside of the main group.  Mix the groups up so that different people who may dominate in certain groups are able to work in a variety of settings and hear so many views it can help them to moderate some of their views.

  1. Abandon the Traditional Plenary

In the traditional plenary feedback most of the group are silent. Consider what the purpose of the plenary is. If you want cross-fertilization of ideas using different techniques where you mix the groups up or just walk around the room looking at the outputs can be just as effective.

Some of these techniques I work on intuitively, sometimes it is based on my own preferences for coming up with ideas. I recently ran a programme for PhD students Industrial Focused Mathematical Modelling Programme. Our programme was about how to encourage creative thinking and we started the process with an experiential activity from which the group developed a hypothesis of what was needed for effective creative group work. They listed lots of useful tips initially. What they added at the end was the tip “take time to think things through individually first, so that your ideas have time to develop independently before the group activity” which was based on the activities and methods we had experienced over the programme. In their summary comments this was one of their biggest learning insights and one which I know they will be taking into their work.

If you want to make more of the skills of the quieter thinkers in your team so that you really do tap the whole group for creative insights try out some of these ideas or give us a call and we can design a process with you that will maximise the levels of engagement and of innovation.

http://www.centreforfacilitation.co.uk

Productivity is about People

This morning I attended an event organised by Clarion Law Firm in Leeds about the Economic Outlook. A range of graphs showed an encouraging upwards trend both nationally and locally, in the Leeds area.

One theme which really stood out was that weak productivity growth in the UK is becoming a growing concern amongst economists. The amount of work done by each worker is on a downwards trend and is not keeping pace with the overall growth in the economy.  Organisations are currently coping with extra demand by taking on additional workers. This has been helped by the large number of people seeking work post recession. The fear is that without increased productivity the only way that organisations will be able to respond to further predicted increases in demand is by increasing prices, causing inflationary pressure.

Reading the Bank of England paper “the Productivity Puzzle” about this trend and discussing it with my colleagues one of the main insights was about structural reasons for the lower levels and solutions which included revisiting the way we measure productivity.

Another line of thought is about increasing investment levels in plant and research and development which is outlined in John Mills interesting article  Investment in Plant 

One area that seemed to be missing from the analysis was how organisations can practically respond to these lower than expected levels of productivity. We are facilitators not economist so we offer four pragmatic ideas based on projects we have been involved in when we have seen a clear improvement on productivity.

ONE: Ask your employees!

One of the things that happened during the recent recession is that we were all so busy surviving that we just kept going round our hamster wheels and never took the time to get off and check our progress. Taking time to review processes, procedures and ways of working has been consistently shown to make an impact on how effectively we work. This is often labelled “systems thinking” and it implies looking systemically at how the whole organisation works. An important (and sometimes neglected) part of the philosophy is the belief that the people undertaking the work are in the best position to improve the system.

TWO: Identify Non Value Activities

When we get busy we often fail to pay sufficient attention to what value we are adding to the business by each action. Focusing on activities which do not add much to the business can quickly identify opportunities for more effective use of resources. This can be something that employees can very quickly identify. We were facilitating one team who realised that the requirement for remote tutors to fax a class register was a time waster when they all had smart phones and could simply photograph and email the register over to the central team. Many small changes add up to big impact over time, people working in the appropriate and encouraging culture can make a huge and beneficial improvement to the overall effectiveness and productivity.

THREE: Engage People

IMG_1911It struck us as curious how any mention of engagement is missing from the Bank of England study which seems to be much focused on structural economic issues. The research by Gallup on employee engagement has consistently identified a link between employee engagement and productivity levels.  From our work in organisations we find that higher levels of engagement happen when employees are asked for their opinions and are consulted on decisions. Running focus groups and large scale events such as Café Exchanges can really help to provide a forum for all levels of employees to sit together, to share ideas and opinions and as a consequence to feel valued by the business.

FOUR: Discuss Productivity as a Measure

Round TAbleProductivity is a national indicator of success but this does not mean that every organisation has to focus on this as a meaningful measure. There is a whole argument that explores whether productivity actually matters. This could be a very useful discussion for the Boards of Organisations to have or for Regional Leaders to discuss using a Round Table format 

Taking this Forward

It seems that productivity is an important component of wealth creation. Investing in the people that work in the business through engaging their innovation and creative energies may be one of the most immediate and effective ways that managers can make an impact on productivity.

Is it time to talk about this as an issue? To step away from the hamster wheel in your business and work out what you want to do about productivity levels? Why not start with a senior level discussion about the impact of productivity on your potential for growth and then from there agree a plan to identify and respond to barriers which are making employees less productive than they feel they could be. We know from British Cycling how marginal gains can make an impact on overall performance, small steps to better productivity will start to show on the bottom line.

Give us a call or drop us an email to start the conversation about how the Productivity Project can begin!

What is a Facilitator?

The role of a Facilitator can be mysterious for those that have yet to experience a meeting or workshop run by a professional Facilitator.  For those that have, the purpose and the benefits of a Facilitator become clear.

The dictionary definition can be a little vague too:

Facilitate verb: make (an action or process) easy or easier.

The French word “facile” means easy

Comparing the lesser-known role of the facilitator to other more well-known roles the one common area is that all these roles will be involved in supporting change to happen.

  • Trainers usually provide the information.
  • Coaches will help shape the goal and the journey
  • Consultants will usually give advice based on best practice in the sector.

The change may be very small, or transformational.  The changes typically are skills, behaviours, performance, ways of working, products, processes and strategies…..and all these roles support that process of change, they help the change to take place

4 Box Grid Facilitation Roles

So ….‘what is a Facilitator?’  Facilitators will typically design and run workshops, meetings and conferences with the structure to engage the team to meet their objectives…….

Roles 4 Roles photo 2 Roles Photo 3

The facilitator does not lecture the group on how to meet their objectives using a series of ‘death by powerpoint’ presentations.

A facilitator will use more engaging techniques than just asking the question to the group.We know that the typically in old style debates those that speak loudest are the only ones to get heard.

Using a facilitator means everyone gets a chance to take part, to listen, to talk and to build on ideas. The sum of the output will be more powerful than an idea generated by the senior team on their own because this time there is ownership.

At an event we recently ran for Basware  we asked the group to describe the process at the end. This word cloud captures their feelings about the event.

We know that participants leaving any group event with these thoughts have a far better chance of succeeding in implementing the outputs with energy, enthusiasm and vigour.

Word Cloud Change

If results count for you is there then consider the value of having your meetings facilitated by one of our professional facilitators and see how much difference this makes to the engagement levels in your meetings.  Read about what our clients say

Lucybrownsdon@centreforfacilitation.co.uk

Are our meetings giving a return on investment?

Whilst delivering a training course recently, the perennial topic of effective meetings raised it head – again!

Several of the people on the course were quite stressed, working long hours, looking tired and generally not the happiest people on the planet! I then did a quick survey, asking the simple question, ‘On average, how many hours per week do you spend in meetings?’  The replies ranged from about 5 hours to one person spending 30+ hours per week in meetings. Each of these meetings seemed to be typically attended by about 6 people. I then asked:-

 ‘and if your company’s CEO walked into the meeting, would all participants be able to explain what the meeting was going to achieve and how they were contributing to that objective?’ 

There was some nervous shifting in chairs and mutters – I felt I touched a nerve, so not wishing to heap further pain on already stressed individuals I backed off and opened up a ‘back to basics’ session on effective meetings, this resulted in a number of delegates committing to revisit their own meeting schedules.

It seems that most of us know what we should do for a meeting (e.g. justify, plan, prepare, run, follow-up on). However it is easy to find a series of meetings that have become a routine – they have a ‘life of their own’ – and occur without much thought and even less challenge about the actual value.

In our working lives, do we start to behave like hamsters in a wheel, expending more and more energy running around the same track? If this touches a nerve for you, do yourself a favour and just do a very quick analysis of your recent time at work:-

  • How many meetings did you run / attend?
  • Was the meeting justified, was it the best way to achieve the objective?
  • Was each meeting effective and efficient, were all attendees required and able to contribute?
  • If a key stakeholder, like the company CEO, or a major shareholder in the company, walked into the room, would you be confident to explain why the meeting was happening?

If you are positive in all your answers, Gold Star, well done! – keep up the good work.

If not, maybe you have found one key to a more productive and less stressful working life.