(Extract from The leading –edge manager’s guide to success)

A majority of meetings are totally flawed. They are held because they were held last week, two weeks ago, last month. The actual fundamental purpose of the meeting has long been forgotten.

My favourite story is about a large oil company in a major restructuring undertaken by the CEO found that there were layers of management whose sole purpose was to attend meetings. When the CEO initiated the move out of the headquarters, he acquired a new premises that could house only a third of what the original headquarters previously held. He was quoted as saying, “Accommodate those whom you can and assist the others with their careers elsewhere.” They noted the organization did not miss a beat with the removal of these meetings.

I will never forget working as a contractor and seeing, every Monday, the senior management team members attending their weekly meeting. At 12:30 P.M. they emerged, totally frustrated, seeing the meeting as a wasted exercise. The meeting could and should have been held on the previous Friday afternoon, lasting no more than an hour.

Most managers have at some time received training in managing meetings, yet the level of frustration with meetings remains the same. The problem has been that the training has not looked at all the core reasons for failure.

Two management consultants, Mike Osborne and David McIntosh, have developed a methodology that is breathtaking in its simplicity yet profound in its impact.

Action Meetings (www.actionmeetings.com) has attacked the core of dysfunctional meetings and the common features of unclear agendas, lack of engagement, rambling discussions, a total lack of understanding of “the space” the fellow attendees are in, and worst of all, poorly defined action points and follow through.

There are a number of key features to an action meeting. I will explore some of them here:

  • Get people properly into and out of the meeting. The introduction of a first word and last word where attendees briefly say what state they are in. The first words could range from “I am very time challenged and this meeting is the last thing I need” to “I am excited to make progress with this assignment and to hear Bill’s view on the XYZ development.” The last words could include “This meeting once again promised little and delivered nothing” to “I look forward to receiving Pat’s report and working with the project team.” The key to the first and last word is that attendees can say anything about how they feel at that point in time and their comment is just that and is to remain unanswered.
  • An effective agenda is constructed as outcomes. This is the introduction of precise wordings about meeting outcomes (see Exhibit 1.0). Outcomes provide focus and the ability to easily check whether an item has in fact been completed. One major benefit of establishing meeting outcomes worded in this way is that requested attendees can and should extract themselves from attending if they do not think they can add value or assist in achieving the outcomes.

 

Exhibit 1.0 Meeting-Outcomes-Based Agenda

Date:

Location:

Attendance record:

Pat Carruthers 4 out of 5
Sam Jones 2 out of 5
Melanie Maxie 5 out of 5
Dean Lorry etc 5 out of 5

Proposed meeting outcomes:

project XYZ progress examined and understood
the monthly results understood
the next steps for project XYZ agreed and assigned
this month’s key initiatives agreed
the responsibilities on the acquisition of ABC Limited assigned

 

 

  • Meetings are participant-owned, not chairperson-owned. All attendees are trained in the new methodology and thus meetings are owned and policed by all the participants and so are less reliant on the capability of the chairperson.
  • Once an outcome is closed it remains closed. During the meeting remind anyone who is opening closed items that the item has been closed.
  • Table nonrelated issues. Any issues raised that are not related to the outcome under discussion are tabled for another future discussion.
  • Action steps. Actions steps are written carefully on a special pad and then entered into a web-based application so all can see the progress. A layout of the whiteboard in an action meeting is shown in Exhibit 2.0, and a checklist can be found in Exhibit 3.0 and agreed actions in Exhibit 4.0.

Exhibit 2.0 layout of the whiteboard in an action Meeting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exhibit 3.0 Action meeting checklist

An action meeting checklist  

Before the meeting

Review previous meetings for agreed actions and find out progress, if little achieved, defer meeting and action a ‘shame and name’

  • o Yes o No
Offer help to those ‘non achievers’ who will be dragging the chain on the issues they have promised to deliver on
  • o Yes o No
Draft the outcomes of the meeting and send these as the agenda, asking only those who can help achieve these outcomes to attend
  • o Yes o No
Show the attendance record on the draft outcomes document, if the meeting is worthwhile then all people designated should have attended
  • o Yes o No
Visit the most influential attendees, before the meeting, and seek their support on critical issues
  • o Yes o No

During Meeting

Limit recording so only the major agreements and issue them the same day after the meeting (a one pager as opposed to a 4-6 pager)

  • o Yes o No
Remind everyone of the action meeting rules;

  • first word
  • agreement on outcomes and the order in which they are to be discussed
  • outcome once closed is to remain closed
  • everybody has the right to challenge someone if the point being raised is not related to the current outcome
  • be hard on the issue but soft on the person
  • tasks cannot be assigned to anybody who is not at the meeting
  • all ideas are welcome as long as they relate to the outcome being discussed
  • all ideas not related to outcomes go in the ‘park lot’ square in the board and are discussed only when all other issues are completed and the attendees wish them to be aired.
  • all agreed actions must have a person, and date which they will be completed
  • last word
  • o Yes o No
Write up the outcomes on a white board and get agreement from everybody that the wording is correct
  • o Yes o No
Start off with the first word, ensuring everyone understands it is a statement about what space they are in , not about what they are doing at the present, give them an example
  • o Yes o No
Recap on agreements, check to see if deadlines are realistic
  • o Yes o No
End with the last word
  • o Yes o No
Set up a reminder system to trigger follow-up calls to all those who have agreed to an action
  • o Yes o No

Exhibit 4.0 Agreed actions

Agreed Actions Responsibility Deadline
to meet with xxx and obtain their commitment to yyy PC 1st June
update the project’s intranet page DL 7 June
short-list three suppliers FR 18th June
canvas support from SMT OK 19th June
follow up progress on these action points ML 20th June