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

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

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.

 

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.

Can you Collaborate?

Collaboration is everywhere. Companies are seeking to collaborate with others to develop their brand. As team members we are urged to collaborate with other teams so that we can better serve our customers. Large public sector contracts are requiring the competitor teams to work collaboratively together on the project and to demonstrate competence in collaboration before the contract is awarded.

Meeting TableBut do we really get what this means to us as individuals? Do we recognise what we need to change in our behaviour so we are seen as someone who can be collaborative?

Probably in answering these questions your responses are positive. Who would not want to be collaborative? It has become one of those characteristics like communication that everyone believes they do well but equally complains that everyone else does badly!

At the heart of our challenge with collaboration is that although we think we want to collaborate we have a deep grained tendency towards competition and to wanting to win. This desire to win can mean that we inadvertently do things which cause the collaborative relationships we have been building to break down. We cannot resist the desire to show that it was our unique contribution/idea that allowed the team to be successful. We do this even when it means the others in our team will appear less effective. As a facilitator I will often be asked to observe team working on real or simulated problems and am always fascinated to see how any element of competition will hinder attempts at collaboration. The team just wants to do whatever will lead them to be successful at the task in the short term.

So what is it that is needed to make collaboration more possible? The key to this is the ability to trust others. We need to trust that the others in our team will put the urge to win aside and will do the right thing for the team even at the cost of their own personal gain.

How do you know you can trust others? How do you make sure that they behave in the interests of the team?

The short (and I know rather disappointing) answer to this is that you can’t. You cannot make others do anything. How they behave in a collaborative relationship will be in reaction to your own behaviour and this is the part you can control. This means that the more useful question to ask about collaboration is “what can I do to be seen as trustworthy?”

In the past trust was always seen as something that took time to build up. Recent insights from Swift Trust Theory have indicated that this is not always the case. In reality a lot of trust comes about through our actions and this is something we can control.

The three main actions you can take to build up your reputation for being trustworthy (and therefore someone I would want to collaborate with) are:

  • Do what you say you will do, when you said you would do it
  • Share what you know with others
  • Do your job well, be competent

This sounds simple but these building bricks start to build up the trust relationship and from this you have the basis of an excellent collaborative working relationship.

The extent of collaboration in organisations is growing and so we may also need in our own organisations to create the right conditions to make it possible for teams to collaborate.

There are four key areas to work on with your teams:

  1. Agree ways of working – it is vital to be clear about who does what, what the expectations are for how things are done.
  2. Define and Share Goals – there will be shared goals for the project but also different team members have different goals. Being open about these personal goals helps each party to get what they need from the collaboration
  3. Manage Behaviour – we all think we are trustworthy, we all think we are great listeners, we all think we are open to feedback but the truth is often very different. We need to support teams to address behaviour and increase the self-awareness within the team.
  4. Review and Reflect on Practice – collaboration needs practice so your teams need to take stock of what went well by conducting a structured lessons learnt review.

leavesMost importantly teams need time to support them in becoming collaborative. Sharing information with others, discussing joint plans, identifying personal objectives, all of this is time consuming. The final goal will be a richer outcome but there will be short term pain which will sabotage the collaborative working unless we recognise this by allocating more initial start-up time for our project teams. A great example of where this valuable time made a huge difference to a start up project is in our case study.

To return to the question of can you collaborate? There are some important things you can do to manage your collaborative behaviour by recognising how strong your competitive desire to win is and looking at ways in which you can rein this in! You can start developing your trustworthy behaviour so people want to collaborate with you and finally you can give others and demand for yourself the time and space to work in a collaborative manner.

Our facilitation team are skilled in working with teams to encourage greater collaboration. Do contact us for a chat!

Agile Team Working – making time to talk

Proud and Sorry

Proud and Sorry

As facilitators one of the great benefits is that we work across a range of different organisations and professions, picking up little bits of technical knowledge as we go. I worked within a software company on a series of projects and facilitated events to help them explore some Agile working practices. In the process of this I came across an excellent reference source: Agile Retrospectives

This book is often my “go to” book when working with smaller teams. One of our recent challenges was a piece of work with a small team of remote workers for the ECC The team needed to make progress on some work tasks during a series of two face to face meetings but more importantly they needed to talk to each other and build the feelings of trust. Some of the tools in the Agile Retrospectives really helped with this challenge.

One of the ones that I often use successfully is the “Proud” and “Sorry” session. By using this format it is possible for people to share what disappointed them about the project, or others, in a way that seems to avoid the normal defensive reaction. This method also does something which we always suggest to even small teams – it allows you to write and think your responses individually first before sharing them in a group. With a small team it is tempting to have all the discussions in the large group but this can lead to Groupthink and make some contributions less significant than others.

As with all teams taking time to listen to each other, to build the trust will then make sure that the actual meeting work can be done very effectively. We find that the meeting takes no longer than a normal more agenda driven type of meeting approach, but the richness and depth leads to a far better result after the meeting.

Case Study of our work with ECC