Creating a better collaboration
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How many times have you attended a meeting and realized you just wasted an hour of your time? Or said, "what just happened there"? Or you see the meeting topic is "talk about xxxx".
We use meetings to drive collaboration, make decisions, and communicate across functions -- but often times they are insufficiently organized to create the value that they are meant to. And we're left with too many meetings and not enough accomplished.
In everything I do, I focus on the outcome first, then fill in the gaps as a path to get there. This can used not only in meetings but in every aspect of running a business including building strategy, hiring people, meeting customer needs, etc.
There is a better way.
1) Start with an expected outcome
2) Build your agenda to achieve the outcome
3) Who and what do you need to achieve the agenda
4) Do your research - background and diligence
5) Run the meeting
>> Lets dive deeper <<
1) Informational / Communication
What this means: you're communicating to the attendees and don't really expect much if any feedback. This could be an all-hands meeting, a business update, or providing a mid-term update on a project.
The expected outcome here is the team members attending the meeting understand the key concepts you shared.
2) Decision Making
What this means: you have done some legwork, research and now need certain people to help you with decision making. Or make a decision based on your guidance or recommendations. You would prepare sufficient background in advance so that alternatives have been reviewed, financial or other metrics are presented. You walk people through what you've done and what you recommend and why.
The expected outcome is the team members attending the business meeting make the decision.
3) Building / Working Session
What this means: you need help / input / insight from other team members to move forward in your work product.
The expected outcome is that the team members along with you are able to achieve whatever you need them to within the time allotted. But there needs to be a clear expected outcome with this.
A good meeting agenda is a catalyst for ensuring that you have the right steps and people in place to achieve your outcome from above.
If you're having a working session or decision meeting then these are some key steps you can consider... What information do we need to ground everyone -- taking the first 5-15 minutes, to read a background brief is helpful to ground everyone.
You want to address the questions attendees have. Was anything missing to make a decision? Were all risks considered? Does everyone have sufficient information to make a decision? Then decide. Ensure there is at least 10 minutes reserved at the end to assess and assign next steps / actions.
If this is a communication / informational outcome. Then build your agenda accordingly to meet those objectives taking into account your audience. And leave time for questions as well.
Assign time to each piece on the agenda to ensure you will reasonably have enough time to achieve the outcome. If you don't have enough time, break the outcome down into a smaller, and easier piece.
What people are critical for achieving your outcome (versus just nice to have). We're all very busy so often its easiest to include the critical people only. Do you need certain resources -- whiteboard, paper, projector, etc.
Send the meeting invitation out with the agenda and expected outcome. Sending pre-work is often an effort in futility unfortunately -- so its best to provide time at the beginning of the business meeting to read any summaries or briefs at that point.
I've attended quite a few meetings where the meeting organizer said we're here to talk about XYZ. With all of the best thoughts in mind, talking about something without an objective can easily lead to meeting frustration. The most critical piece of a great meeting is ensuring that you do sufficient background research and prep so that your able to quickly move forward with your agenda.
Do you have the correct data to support your working session?
Do you have the right level of diligence to support your decision making? This could include analysis, risk assessment, data and metrics, competitive review, and/or business case. A summary that people can review at the beginning of the meeting coving this would go a long way to ground everyone on your pre-work and make the achievement of your outcome easier.
You've done all of the pre-work. But no one will say "what just happened there" as you have a clear plan to achieving your outcome.
Given there will always be different personalities in the room, you may need to ensure that all voices are heard -- some people are more quiet than others but you want all inputs as they're all valuable.
A sample agenda could be:
Absolutely. I've seen working sessions last 8 hours. At some you get burnt out and the value that you can provide dwindles with time spent. If we have a need for extensive working sessions I like to break them up to have short breaks every hour or two. Then max out the time to maybe 5 or 6 hours but not longer. In the middle, have 30+ mins off to handle other things.
Ideally most meetings can achieve their outcome in 45 minutes.
I've heard different times thrown around quite a bit from morning only to mid-afternoon. But for those critical meetings, science says that 2:30pm is the optimal time for a meeting. Late morning can also be valuable, but much later in the day after 2:30 and fatigue may start to set in and you ma not achieve your goals.
Chris Fussell, Author, Leader