Quickest Way to Improve your Meetings. Why? Because we Must!

Joel Levitt, President, Springfield Resources

Quickest Way to Improve your Meetings. Why? Because we Must!

We live in a world where almost any organization’s leaders want change yesterday. Our competitors are getting better faster. Our shareholders jump ship unless we produce more sales, profits, lower costs and increase their shareholder value on a quarter by quarter basis.

I just attended a live meeting of a global health care company with representatives from several US, European and Asian plants. They were tasked with transforming their workflow in engineering. The vice president of engineering said flat out, “what we’ve done in the past (as far as change initiatives) in 15 months now must take 15 weeks, if it would have taken 6 months; you’ve now got 6 weeks.”

We must not only change but we must change the process of how we change. If we use the same old tools and models for initiating change then it is likely that we will get the same old results.

The primary tool of change initiatives is meetings. Effective meetings are at the heart of the change development and of the change implementation. Good meetings literally make the difference between success or failure of the whole change process.

How can we improve meetings today?  Improving meetings is not rocket science or brain surgery. For the most part it is being more rigorous in applying a few basic rules.  The following 5 ideas (to the extent you are not doing them now) will immediately improve your meetings. They will also improve the morale of the people and improve energy levels. Keep in mind that this is the beginning of the journey.  

1.   Have ground rules for running the meeting and make sure everyone knows them and is aligned. This would include basic etiquette, attendance, lateness, use of mobile devices, preparation, decision making and a few other things. You can always start with a few and add rules as needed.

For example in the global engineering meeting I mentioned they were not looking for everyone to agree with the decisions made. They defined another state they called alignment.  Alignment is a lower level of agreement similar to “could you go along with this?” or “is this a drop-dead issue for you?”  Good ground rules like these increase the speed and effectiveness of the meeting.

2. Consider having some short checklists to cover what should be done 15 minutes before the meeting including checking the room, checking A/V set-up, be sure the room is clean, there are enough chairs (printed materials, snacks, water, etc.). Pick items that can be fixed by intervention (fire alarms can’t be anticipated but fire drills might be). You want to develop a checklist to cover all of the actionable issues made in the past and likely to ever happen again. Other useful checklists include things to perform 3 days before the meeting, during the meeting and after the meeting.

3. Know why you are meeting. This means everyone knows why they are in the room. This sounds superfluous but many meetings have no business reason (or any other reason either) for being. Be sure to review the mission (to make sure there still is one).  Also important is that everyone in attendance should have some idea why they are there and what they are expected to contribute.

The agenda serves as the core reason for meeting. The items included determine the boundaries of what will be talked about, decided or communicated.  Meetings without agendas might be considered more like purely social events. In one way a cocktail party is like a meeting with an agenda (but with cocktails).

4. Create a meeting memory. Commonly called minutes (but never called hours even for a long meeting) or meeting notes. People are notorious for not remembering and miss remembering topics and discussions in meetings. Research in Great Britain showed people forget most of the topics and mis-remember most of what they do claim to remember.

5. Create a series of structures to help people remember what they said they would do. These reminder systems include Outlook, minutes, agendas even Post-it Notes. These reminders effectively multiply to power, reach and effectiveness of your meetings.

Human interaction

Meetings to communicate and allocate work are a uniquely human invention. Since we are dealing with humans there are meetings that will go well with or without these five ideas. There are also meetings that will go bad even if you apply each of these ideas.

One function of meetings is to build relationships. People like working for “friends.” Sometimes the efficiency of the meeting can be sacrificed to build the relationships of the people. While a meeting that sticks to the topic might be more efficient, some team building exercises might be advantageous to help build the relationships.

Leadership is essential to deal with a wide range of behaviors that might occur in a meeting.  The facilitator or chair is the key player to improve the meetings beyond these ideas. The ideas will make the leader more effective; create a common ground for the meeting communication and transactions. 

What we are doing is improving the fundamentals to improve the performance for the bulk of your meetings.   How will you know the meeting is better than the last one?

There are two easy ways. The easiest way is to monitor your own energy and state. If you are unsettled, angry, tired, headachy, of feel off then look at what happened in the meeting.  The second way is to ask the participants.

Good luck with your next meeting.

About the Author

With more than 30 years of management experience in the maintenance and engineering fields, Joel D. Levitt is a leading trainer of manufacturing, operational and maintenance professionals – having trained more than 15,000 maintenance leaders from 3,000 organizations in 25 countries.  Since 1980, Levitt has been the president of Springfield Resources, a management consulting firm servicing clients of all sizes on a wide range of maintenance issues, and is currently the Director of International Projects at Life Cycle Engineering.  Mr. Levitt is the author of 10 popular books and over 150 articles on maintenance management, as well a frequent speaker at related industry conferences.

10 Minutes a Week to Great Meetings is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon.com, www.maintenancetraining.com and www.meetingdefender.com.