Jim Rose
EQ Consulting Services
611 Bear Den Road
Townsend, TN  37882
865-207-4480

jrose@eq-consultingservices.com

How much time does your organization waste in meetings?

Have you ever been in meeting where time has been wasted?  Do most organizations find that they are having more meetings each year?  Can businesses afford to waste time when there are more things that need to get done in a day that can be accomplished?  Do the leaders of most meetings feel like they waste time (probably not)?

 Have you ever wondered just how much time is actually wasted in meetings?  Studies have been conducted that indicated on the average 75% of the time is wasted!  Running an effective meeting is NOT a natural process.  If it was natural then there would not be as much time wasted in meetings.  It could be a valuable exercise to calculate just how much time might be wasted in your organization with ineffective meetings.  You can estimate just how many meetings are held in a year, how long they last and the number of hours spent in them.  From this you can make an approximation of the cost.  Can you afford possibly wasting 85% of this amount?  If not, changes you can make are identified below? 

I will offer two options.  The best option is to hire a seasoned professional and let them train you on how to run effective meetings.  The potential savings you calculated will likely exceed the expenditures required for the professional.  The second option is that you could learn how to improve your meeting processes by reading a series of Blog articles I will be writing.  I will be offering a variety of tools, techniques and methodologies that will help when used.  Most of these will not be “rocket science” but can be very helpful.  It will not be the same as professional training but it will be a very cost effective opportunity for improvement.  These articles will be published weekly.

Can you afford not to reduce the cost of ineffective meetings?

 

Is the purpose of a meeting always clear to all?

If the purpose of a meeting is not clear, it will be very difficult to have an effective meeting.  I have met with groups to assist with improving the effectiveness of their meetings and started by having everyone write down the purpose of their regular meetings.  It is amazing how many different viewpoints there were.  It could be a valuable exercise for you to do the same with any group with which you meet. 

 

Let me give you some examples of different meeting purposes:

-General communications

-Updates from participants

-Driving the strategic plan

-Problem solving

-Implementing initiatives

-An opportunity to solicit input

-Making decisions

-Get support for a decision

-Make an announcement

Groups that meet on an ongoing basis need to agree on fundamentally why they meet.  They may perform more than one type of activity in a particular meeting but that should be linked to their overall purpose.

When a group meets that does not meet regularly, the specific purpose of that meeting should be stated at the start of the meeting.  Even better, the purpose should be identified in the invitation to the meeting.  One example of a potential problem could be that some participants might think the purpose of the meeting was to make a decision.  However, the leader may have just wanted input.  This difference can cause frustration for everyone.

Is the purpose of the meetings you lead always clear?  Maybe you should ask some people.

Do you have the right people in your meetings?

One of the inefficient uses of people’s time in a meeting is having people attend when it is not necessary.  The following are things to consider ensuring you do not have people participating appropriately. 

Rather than having some people come for an entire meeting, consider just having them come at a specific time for a particular topic.

Some people might not even need to attend if their participation is for only receiving information.  This could be handled by having someone that needs to attend the meeting to share key points with them after the meeting.

Should the purpose of the meeting be to just share information, possibly a meeting is not even needed.  Perhaps the information could be shared in writing.

Possible some people should be attending that are not and if not for the entire meeting, possibly a portion of it.

There is a tendency to be creatures of habit and an example could be who attends meetings.  It could be a good activity for your organization to have a review of all regular meetings to sure that the appropriate people are attending.

Improve the effectiveness of your meetings with role clarity

The following are guidelines to use regarding roles in a meeting that could  improve your meeting effectiveness.

Leader

All meetings need a leader.

Prior to the meeting they are to develop and distribute an appropriate agenda

During the meeting their primary role is to guide the “process” which would include:

-Seeing that the agenda is followed and only deviating from it when it is appropriate to do so

-Managing time which means starting and stopping on time and following times for each agenda topic unless extending the time is very important

-Seeing that there is good participation from all team members.  This means that those that want to dominate the meeting do not do so and those that might not speak up do contribute.

-The leader should not be the one that leads the discussion on each topic as doing this would detract from their guiding the process.  Other people should be assigned to lead the discussion on each topic.

After the meeting the leader should check with those that made commitments to ensure the important ones are being accomplished according to the plan.

Timekeeper

Monitors meeting progress regarding time planned for the agenda topics.  They are to remind the team if they start getting behind on the schedule.  It is the leader’s responsibility to manage the time

Recorder

Makes notes following the guidelines a team has identified and publishes them after the meeting.  A recorder should make notes on a flip chart, white board, etc..  However, it is best that this is a different person than the one taking notes for the meeting.  This task should not be done by the leader (as is frequently the case) as it will prevent them from being able to effectively guide the meeting process.

Facilitator

A professional can be used if the team cannot implement the changes needed.

I suggest to have as a topic for one of your meetings to review roles and determine if changes could be made that would make the meetings even more effective.

 

This stuff really works, give it a try!

 

 

Do your meetings have an effective agenda?

 

 

It is almost impossible to have an efficient meeting without a good agenda that is also followed appropriately.  I say appropriately as sometime it will be appropriate to deviate from the agenda.  However, if frequent deviation typically takes place I would offer that the group does not have good agendas.  The following are some guidelines that could be useful.

Development process

It is best for all participants to have input regarding topics on the agenda.  After soliciting input the leader makes the final decision and distributes the agenda to all participants prior to the meeting.

Template

Attached is a template that could be used.  I feel it works best to have a standard format and one that works best for the group.

Topics

Generally it works best to have the most important topics at the top so in case you are not able to cover all topics at lease the most important topics will be discussed.  How much time the topics will take and how much time is available for the meeting will determine the number of topics that can be on the agenda.  It is important to allow enough time for the topics.

Desired Outcome

The topic is usually only a couple of words so that attendees have a general idea regarding the subject.  The desired outcome makes it really clear what is to be accomplished.  An example clarifying the difference could be as follows.  An agenda topic could be “office changes”.  This could be used when decisions have been made and the decision is being shared.  However, it could mean that changes need to be made and your input is needed.  These are very different and participants should know that prior to the meeting.  This clarity sould be made clear using the desired outcome.

Times

Place here the best estimate regarding the time needed for the topic.  This does not mean that discussion must stop at the end of the time allotted.  However, it does mean that if more time is allotted then time will need to be removed from part or all of the following topics.  The leader should be the one to facilitate making the decision regarding time management.

Who

This is the person that will make a presentation or facilitate a discussion for that particular topic.  The team leader is typically not the most appropriate person for most topics. This would take their focus away from their primary role which is to lead/facilitate the meeting.

Standard topics

Typically it is best at the start of the meeting to take a couple of minutes to review the agenda to ensure that it contains the most appropriate topics.  The reason is that since the agenda was distributed other important topics might have surfaced and should be considered.  However, this means that some topic might need to be eliminated to make room for it.  At the end of the meeting some time should be spent planning the next meeting including identification of potential topics.

I suggest trying some of these suggestions and see if they help.

Use a simple but powerful tool to improve meeting effectiveness (with link)

All meeting processes can be improved.  The single most important advice I could offer to accomplish this is for the leader of a group that meets frequently to conduct a Process Check.  This is a simple tool that can measure the effectiveness of a meeting that can be done in 10-15 minutes.  Here is how it works:

Each person in the meeting is asked to get out a piece of paper and a pencil for the purpose of determining how the effectiveness of the meetings can be improved.  Following the following guidelines is very important.  Remind everyone of the purpose of the meeting.  Ask each person to make brief notes with answers to the following three questions and inform them that this is to be done in silence.  Inform them that there will be time for discussion later.  Attached is a template that can be used.  It works well if it can be projected by an LCD on a screen or wall during this activity.

Question #1: Rate the overall meeting effectiveness from 1-10.

Questions #2: What contributed to it being a good meeting?

Question #3: How to make it even better?

Give everyone time to note their answers.  Then it is time to collect the information but with no discussion.  Go around the room and ask people their rating and note individual responses on the form.  Making notes of responses in short phrases through a computer on the form and projected on the wall works best for all responses.  Next go around the room and ask each person for one thing they thought went well.  Keep going around the room until all thoughts have been identified.  Then use the same process for determining how the meeting could be improved.

You can see that there is an average rating.  Now it is time for discussion.  Discuss the things that went well.  The reason for doing this is to remind everyone of what the group needs to more of in the future.  Discuss what could be done to improve the meeting effectiveness.  Make decisions and then implement them.  Then a few meetings later conduct another Process Check.  The process should go on forever and meetings can always be improved.  This is a means for quantifying the improvements

When will you evaluate this tool by using it?

Three valuable tools that will improve meeting effectiveness.

 

 

 

Improving meeting effectiveness does not require complex models.  The following are three very simple but powerful tools that work.

 Action Register

Ask yourself if your team has a very good batting average for following through in a timely manner with commitments team members have made during a meeting.  If it is not a very high percentage I would recommend using an Action Register.  A template is attached that can be used.  Simply have someone in the meeting to note all action items that are identified during the meeting.  Then identify for each what is to be done, who is to do it and the date by which the action is to be completed.  It is important that the person committed to complete the task is in agreement with the date.  Then first agenda topic at each meeting is to review the status of each action item.  If an item was not completed on schedule a new completion date is to be identified.  This should not be the time to discuss the topic.  If it is pertinent to discuss the topic it would be an agenda topic later in the meeting.  I have found that people do not like for it to be clear that they did not do what they committed to do.  The result is that more action items are completed on schedule.

 Parking Lot

During a meeting it is common for a topic to surface for discussion that was not on the agenda.  So often a team gets off track and spends considerable time discussing that topic at the sacrifice of other more important topics that will now not be covered.  A better means for handling an unexpected topic that surfaces is for the team to stop and ask if this topic is more important that others on the agenda (the agenda typically contains all of the topics that should be covered and possible more).  If the group says it is important then they should decide which topics will not be covered.  Should the group decide that it is not critical to cover that topic in this particular meeting then it could be noted on the Parking Lot which is a running list of topics to discuss at a later time.  The Parking Lot is reviewed when identifying agenda topics for each meeting and the most important topics will be placed on the agenda for the next meeting.  The location for the Parking Lot could be just below the Action Register as in the template referenced earlier.

 Decision Log

This is a running log of significant decisions made in a meeting and the date they were made.  Thus a simple running log that is available should there be debate at some time in the future regarding a particular decision that was made.  This log could be just below the Parking Lot.

I am not a believer in detailed minutes for a meeting as they can take a lot of time to document and typically very few people ever read them.  What is important is to document items on the Action Register, the Parking Lot and the Decision Log.

 

Try these tools as I think you will really like them.

Do some people tend to dominate discussions in your meetings?

Frequently some people dominate discussions in meetings while others do not provide input when they should.  You can have a very positive impact regarding the input of both the extraverts and introverts by using a simple technique that I refer to as Polling.  Here is the way it works. 

Let’s say that you have a topic where everyone’s input would be valuable to ensure that the best decision is made.  You start by making sure that the topic for discussion is clear.  Next you explain the following rules for managing the discussion to ensure appropriate input from all.  Everyone will be given 60 seconds to provide their input.  During this time no one else is allowed to say anything.  No one else can express their opinion (they will have their turn) or even ask questions.  Almost always during the uninterrupted 60 seconds a person has all the time they need to express their viewpoint. 

You pick out one person for starting the process.  When they have finished go either clockwise or counterclockwise around the room until everyone has expressed their viewpoint.  I find that it is rarely necessary to actually keep time.  I like to arrange the discussion so that the leader speaks last so the leader does not possible influence others before they share their viewpoint. 

Now you would have had balanced participation where the extroverts did not dominate the meetings and you do have input from the introverts.

Once the polling process has been completed you can allot some time for general discussion.

 

The only reason you might not want to try this would be that you typically have good balanced participation.  Do you?

Are you using “facilitative behaviors” to improve the effectiveness of meetings?

I describe facilitative behaviors as things participants can do to improve the effectiveness of meetings.   The following are examples:

  • Asking people for their input
    • Helps to get input from people that might be hesitant to speak up
  • Summarizing agreement
    • At times it appears that a group is finally in agreement on a topic but they just keep talking about it.  Someone could ask the question” are we in agreement that…..”?  If the group agrees then move on to the next topic or adjourn.
  • Seeking clarity
    • Sometimes it is not clear to you or possibly others what a person has said.  It can be helpful to just ask for more clarity.
  • Validating people
    • Sometimes a person makes a statement that is not necessarily popular with other participants.  It can be helpful to thank the person for expressing their viewpoint even if you personally might not agree with it.  Then in the future they will be more likely to express other viewpoints some of which could be very valuable.
  • Reading non verbals
    • Be on the watch for messages that people might be sending during a meeting with their body language.  Examples could include: looking out the window, rolling their eyes, crossed arms, just looking upset, etc.  Then seek to understand and address the issue.
  • Remind the group of their mission or goal
    • Occasionally a group will start working on something not really related to why the group exists.  A technique for managing this is to ask if the topic is really supportive of achieving their mission or goal.
  • Paraphrasing
    • Rephrasing what someone has said can accomplish multiple objectives.  One is to ensure you did understand what they were saying.  It can also be used to let the other person know that you got what they were saying.
  • Using humor appropriately
    • The key word is appropriately.  Bringing some levity to a meeting at the right time can have a positive impact on a meeting.

Having all members of your group aware of these behaviors and utilizing them can increase the effectiveness of your meetings.  Are you going to share these?  Which ones will you start to use?

Have you ever experienced a meeting where the group has been using a skilled facilitator?

A skilled facilitator can have a dramatic impact on the effectiveness of a meeting.  Studies have shown that on the average 75% of the time spent in meetings is wasted.  Utilizing a facilitator is the single most important thing you can do to reduce this waste.  Your first thought is likely “we cannot afford that”.  My question is “can you afford to not evaluate the possibility”.  Make a rough estimate of how many meetings are held in a year, the average number of people in them, their length and approximately the hourly cost per person.  Then at the 75% loss rate referenced earlier you can estimate how much money you might be wasting.  What would you do if you had a group of workers that routinely wasted 75% of their time?  You would probable fire them.

There are two options for utilizing well trained facilitators.  One is to hire a professional and the other is to develop internal resources.  I would recommend the following.  Find a professional that comes highly recommended and evaluate their effectiveness.  If you are pleased, have them train some internal resources.  The number would be determined based on the size of your organization.

Are you brave enough to calculate the potential cost savings?  Are you brave enough to try a professional?