Quality Meetings: Myth or Reality?
With all that has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing that has continued (albeit in a different format) is the need to conduct meetings.
Recently (well, pre COVID-19 anyway) I was working with a client executive team on their quarterly planning update. One of the elements of this two-day session is to have execs bring up items that are particularly vexing for input and suggestions from their peers. The VP of manufacturing took this opportunity to express his frustration with the effectiveness of their production meetings. When asked to rate the meetings on a scale of 1-10, he gave them a 3!
During discussions, we found the meetings were lacking for any number of reasons, not the least of which was a focus on the meeting itself as a singular objective. A common and serious flaw.
In order to improve the outcome of any meeting, it is well to remember what I call “the three P’s of meeting effectiveness”: Preparation (before the meeting), Participation (during the meeting), and Performance (following the meeting).
Before the meeting it is all about preparation. Meeting leaders need to determine not only who should attend but the purpose they serve in being there. A detailed agenda is prepared and distributed which clearly stipulates meeting objectives, items to be covered, time frame for each and the individual who “owns” the item. Expectations of the attendees should be clear. What do they need to bring and/or prepare to share with the group? What questions should be asked and anticipated? What problems or challenges will participants bring for feedback from the group?
In determining who should attend it also helpful to remember the law of diminishing returns. Keep the number at a level required for efficiency and effectiveness and avoid what I call “the Tupperware Party” syndrome (when everyone complains about having to go, but no one wants to be uninvited!).
Too many attendees at a meeting increase the likelihood of “social loafing” where it is easy to settle into the comfort of anonymity and leave the work of active participation to someone else.
Responsibilities during the meeting seem clear. Show up, be reasonably attentive, answer questions when asked. All necessary but not sufficient. Participating actively means being fully present. It is foolhardy to believe that this can happen when participants have their smartphones on hand, checking email or text messages. For meetings to have any chance of success at all, full focus and attention is a non-negotiable requirement. This is where meeting ground rules come in handy.
After the meeting, performance means completion of the items required for follow up are clearly understood and assigned and timelines for progress and completing are established.
In his recent book, “The Surprising Science of Meetings”, author Steven G. Rogelberg suggests a brief follow-up after each meeting to determine whether and to what extend meeting objectives were met and what can be done to improve the meeting process. His chapter on “The Folly of the Call-in Meeting” offers tips that are particularly useful now given the proliferation of “Zoom” type meetings since COVID-19.
Meetings are needed maybe now more that ever before. Done well, they can be an effective way to bring teams together, share critical information, dialogue, discuss and debate key issues and establish a sense of coherence and focus while building strong professional relationships. With so much to be gained, taking time to make effective meetings a core competency of the organization seems well worth the time and effort.
For additional resources and a suggested guide to meeting formats, agendas, and ground rules, contact me at email@example.com.
Joseph P. Truncale, Ph.D., CAE, is the Founder and Principal of Alexander Joseph Associates, a privately held consultancy specializing in executive business advisory services with clients throughout the graphic communications industry.
Joe spent 30 years with NAPL, including 11 years as President and CEO. He is an adjunct professor at NYU teaching graduate courses in Executive Leadership; Financial Management and Analysis; Finance for Marketing Decisions; and Leadership: The C Suite Perspective. He may be reached at Joe@ajstrategy.com. Phone or text: (201) 394-8160.