September 11, 2012

Too Many Meetings?

Filed under: Operations — Joe Grant @ 1:42 pm

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Too many meetings at your agency? Or maybe not enough.

Don’t be like the three partners who prided themselves on “door jam” meetings where they’d settle important issues on the fly. It was casual and breezy, but too often one of the partners was unintentionally left out. In interviewing the staff as part of an agency assessment the single biggest problem was, yep, mixed messages and lousy communication.

If you’re in a company with even just 3 or 4 employees you’re part of a dynamic ever-changing organism requiring structure to stay healthy. The executive team has to meet frequently to check the company “dashboard” and make sure the gauges and dials indicate things are going right no matter what size the place is.

In running a company, two kinds of regular meetings are required: operations and policy. Operations meetings cover day-to-day things which are often trivial but can cripple if not managed — should we replace the ever-jamming copier; one of the toilets is busted; what about this year’s holiday party, etc.

Policy meetings are more high level – the pros and cons of absorbing a competitor, reviewing the hiring budget, planning for retirement of a senior partner.

Aim to spend an hour a week on ops — same day and time if possible so it becomes an easy habit. Yes, I’m serious. One hour a week is plenty; you’re there to do billable work for clients, not meeting repeatedly to solve the same problems over and over.

Schedule half-day policy meetings no less than every quarter to review the big issues and opportunities. Then, to cover the really important stuff requiring thoughtful contemplation, once a year hold a full-blown facilitated offsite retreat for a couple of days.

A sidebar here about facilitators. You’ll stay on track, get more done, and come up with many more solutions and ideas if you engage a professional facilitator familiar with your industry (find out more about what we do in this area on our website.) An objective referee will make things more productive than if you did it on your own. There’s a reason doctors don’t operate on themselves.

Meetings are tools but they’re not a multi-purpose Leatherman. A meeting is only good for three things: (1) to share information, (2) to capitalize on opportunities, and (3) to solve problems. They are not free-for-alls for attendees to pile on (“Yeh, and another thing that’s wrong around here is . . . “)

Here’s an elegant 3-part prescription we use when facilitating which will easily quadruple your meeting productivity. Start by briefly defining the issue and asking, What’s possible to achieve – what’s the ideal outcome we want? Next, ask What are the obstacles, what’s in our way? Finally (and spend the bulk of your time here): How do we remove the obstacles?

With the obstacles out of the way the path will be clear and you’ll be on your way to accomplishing your goal.

Keep it that simple and your meetings will become shorter, less frequent, and a lot more satisfying.

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