More Effective Meetings

The amount of time spent in meetings often seems disproportionate to the value of the outcomes yet it is all part and parcel of accepted business practice. But should it be? Attending meetings can become a habit and many people complain about having a day so packed with meetings that they have to rush from one to the next. To ensure your meetings are more effective in the future implement the following eight rules and see the difference.

1. Specific Objectives For Meeting

A meeting should only take place for a very specific reason and nothing more. Even if it is a regular progress meeting then that is all that should be covered and it should not take long at all. Make sure that everyone knows why the meeting is taking place and clarify it at the very start of the meeting and make sure you do not allow any diversions from that topic.

2. The Right People

All too often people turn up to a meeting and contribute absolutely nothing. So why are they there and shouldn’t they be off doing something productive instead? This situation is very common when there is a series of regular meetings with people using the excuse that they have nothing to add at that particular meeting but need to come along to “keep up to date”. Firstly, meetings are not the most efficient communication tool for keeping people up to date and secondly, make it very clear that if they have nothing to contribute it is perfectly acceptable not to come.

People sometimes consider themselves too busy to attend particular meetings and send along others in their place with a “line to take”. The difficulty here is that the person substituted for the one you need is often not authorised to make decisions but has to take them back, thus adding delay. The way round this is to make it abundantly clear that only decision makers are expected to attend and that decisions will be made even if some attendees send along substitutes or don’t turn up at all. They will soon get the message.

3. People Know What’s Expected Of Them

Make sure attendees know exactly what is expected of them at the meeting by giving them sufficient notice. The purpose of the meeting, the specific objective(s) and any reading material must also be included.

One reason why meetings drag on so long is that they get de-railed by long presentations of material that people should have prepared for in advance. Make it clear up front that people are expected to come ready to discuss and agree a way forward based on what was sent out in advance and that no presentations will be made (now there’s a thought). Again, once you start this way of managing your meetings it won’t take long before people get the message and your meetings will only take as long as they need to.

4. Never Defer What Needs Deciding

By having the right people with the authority to make decisions and who are prepared for the meeting there ought never be an occasion when decisions get deferred to another meeting. This might seem idealistic but think about it. If there is a need to hold a meeting at a particular time to come to a decision then deferring that decision to another meeting will only add delay and cost.

5. Choose The Right Location

Think carefully about the location you choose for your meeting as it can influence how people behave and contribute. Ad-hoc meetings within the normal working environment make sense but if you have decided to call a more formal meeting then chances are you will want to be distraction-free to allow discussions to take place and decisions to be made. Even if your business does not have dedicated meeting facilities consider either hiring somewhere or using other venues (coffee shops seem to be very popular but think about any commercial discussions in public places).

Not all meetings take place face-to-face so make sure you consider any needs for video-conferencing or tele-conferencing.

6. Be Rigorous With Time

Always let attendees know how long the meeting will take place and ensure you stick to it. This might seem obvious but many people who run their own meetings can get bogged down in the detail of the discussions and because of their passion over a particular subject run over time. Running meetings is a skill in itself and allowing sufficient time for each agenda item is the key. If you consider that it is important that you take part fully in the discussions then think about bringing in a facilitator to run the meeting for you or just part of it.

Another aspect of timing is when in the day or week you have the meeting. People calling in from different time zones around the world need to be considered as do the needs of day-to-day operations of the business. Remember that holding a meeting is not what your business is about, it is merely a way of moving forward.

Latecomers can be a real distraction to any meeting and especially so if they are senior managers. The trick here is not to go back on ground already covered but to acknowledge they have arrived late and to continue from where you were interrupted.

7. Notes Not Minutes

Only the briefest of notes need to be taken at any meeting and certainly not detailed minutes of who said what. A record of what the meeting was about, who attended, decisions taken and any actions is all that is needed and ought to be captured on a single sheet of paper.

8. Make Sure You Met The Meeting’s Objective

At the end of each meeting always review what the specific objective was and make sure you have achieved it. Seems straightforward enough but it is all too easy to finish a meeting and assume that all was successful only for someone to come back later and question the outcome. Far better to explicitly review and confirm that you achieved what you intended to before the meeting closes.

3 More Thoughts

  • Don’t meet just because you are in a routine of regular meetings and it has become a habit. Break the habit and call a stop to those meetings until one is really needed.
  • Add up the time per person for your meetings and any other costs, travel perhaps, and make a judgment call as to whether or not there is a positive ROI for each meeting.
  • Never use a meeting as a primary way of communicating messages, it’s far too costly.

Meetings can be a real drain on any business yet they are needed to ensure decisions are made with the right people present. By over-hauling your meetings using the guidance above there is a very real possibility that you reduce dramatically the number of meetings held and for those that remain they will be seen as a valuable use of people’s time and not a waste.

You might also be interested in Do Your Project Meetings Deliver?

Picture courtesy of


Decisions Need To Be Implemented Quickly

Merida - the Change of Government

Image by kudumomo via Flickr

When large organizations in the public and private sectors are faced with big decisions just as governments are now as they try to reduce national debts it’s absolutely essential that once decisions are made implementation is driven through as quickly as possible.  Failure to do so allows organizations to recover from the initial shock of an announcement and become very busy making changes but in doing so maintaining the status quo wherever they can.

The failure to see through necessary cuts, changes and re-organizations that occur after major announcements from the tops of large organizations is very real.  Whether it’s a merger or a takeover or a major policy shift after a change of government there is a real danger that everyone believes that the production of well articulated and communicated strategies, policies and plans amounts to success.  It does not.  Success is only achieved when those strategies, policies and plans have been implemented with the rigour and thoroughness that they require.  Any experienced Programme or Project Manager knows that the best set of documentation isn’t worth the paper it is written on if it isn’t acted upon and organizational change of the magnitude businesses and governments are likely to see in the coming years is no different at all.

Why Changes Aren’t Realized

There are so many reasons why the changes that get such rapturous support when they are announced do not deliver their expected benefits (see Why Change Initiatives Fail).  Really large-scale change, however, fails for two very specific reasons:

Take Too Long It is not unreasonable to plan for the bigger changes such as cuts and closures to implemented over an elongated period of time so as to ease the stress on those concerned and to do it properly.  This is a grave mistake because it allows those who are against it the time to lobby and frustrate and at the very least cause a sub-optimal solution to be delivered.

Solution – Stop what can be stopped immediately (and be brave about this) and bring in a Programme Manager with the authority to force through changes to tight timescales, no matter how unpopular.

Lack of Capability Unless the organization concerned is used to working in such a ruthless and rigourous fashion it is likely that the responsibility for seeing through such changes will be given to a senior manager with next to no relevant experience or the ability to do the job.  Public sector bodies in particular fail in this respect given that their competences and progression criteria emphasize compromise and conformity to the norm.

Solution – If you do not have the right person for the job in house bring someone in who will manage the Programme of Change professionally and with vigour but make sure they have the authority to do so and the senior level sponsorship from the very top of the organization.

Re-Organization Is Not The Same As Real Change

It is very tempting when change is needed in the largest businesses and government departments for board members to look at organization charts and start cutting and pasting where each unit should be, logically and geographically.  Yes, there may be logic in what is re-drawn but each and every changed line or merged department on the chart will result in significant change in its own right which masks the over-arching change set out at the highest level.  The focus for everyone within the organization has to be on delivering the benefits from whatever their individual roles are but overlaying unnecessary organizational boundary changes does nothing more than obscure the real issues and distract people’s attention.

This isn’t to say that such re-aligning of departments within an organization should not take place at all.  They should, but only after other interventions have taken place first such as process re-engineering and the cutting of waste for example.  A thorough Cost-Benefit-Analysis must be undertaken to incontrovertibly prove it is worth undertaking.  If needed, governments may have to legislate to make changes take place at the pace that is required rather than at the pace that their employees might prefer.

Implementation Itself

Widespread change across massive organizations and smaller ones too must be managed at the highest level to ensure those who run the business are bought into it at all times.  The change itself is not the purpose of the organization even though it might feel like it at times.  The organization is there to survive long-term and make profits for shareholders or run an entire country.  It is to this level that the Programme of Change must report.

Much can be learnt from the world of Portfolio, Programme and Project Management in this respect.  Far reaching and widespread change will by its very definition involve individual Projects at the lowest levels building up to Programmes and a Portfolio. There needs to be an appropriate level of infrastructure put in place to make this happen.  Appropriate means just enough to make things happen, not whole new organizational structures that serve no one but themselves.

Making significant changes in any large organization whether it is a merger between two banks from different countries or it is the result of a major government announcement requires zeal and commitment to make it happen.  Making sure the right people are in place with authority to make it happen is fundamental.

Taming Change With Portfolio Management

There is much that can be learnt and applied from the book Taming Change with Portfolio Management by Pat Durbin and Terry Doerscher. It provides a thorough walk-through of what is needed to put in place a Portfolio Management system specifically with managing change in mind.  The advice and guidelines it covers are equally applicable to public sector organizations as well as private and it is written in a style that allows the reader to work their way through from beginning to end or just concentrate on the area they are particularly interested in.  There are many books on Portfolio, Programme and Project Management out there and many more on Change Management but this one does bring the two subjects together really well.