7 Ways to Improve Meeting Productivity

How familiar does this sound? “Why do we have to have so many meetings?” or “I hate meetings.”

Anybody involved with being a leader in an organization know that meetings take up as much as 50% of the average workday. And for those that are in the start-up phase of an entrepreneurial endeavor know that number is often even higher. But how closely do we examine our meeting habits to determine the value they bring to our bottom lines?

Rereading a piece in Inc. Magazine from several years ago on the subject was a great reminder of how important it is to understand the impact meetings have on my organization’s productivity.

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For example, as the first quarter of 2019 comes to a close and you look back on what went right during the first three months of the year, entrepreneurs, leaders and managers automatically look at predictable indicators, including sales numbers, achievement of cost savings or maybe the success of your marketing campaigns.

While all of these indicators are important, it is how are meetings are conducted and organized that can serve as a “real time” KPI and help steer your organization towards success. Just as you “entrepreneurial elevator pitch” can open up doors to start-up investment, good management of your organization’s meeting culture can help leaders maintain a steady cadence towards business success.

I know, meetings seem like the least important activities businesses (and their leaders) participate in. In fact, we’ve previous noted in this blog that the four major activities businesses must master are Decision Making, Organizing, Controlling and Leading. Establishing a meeting structure is an essential subset of the Management Process.

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Below are 7 ways you can improve effectiveness and impact of your meetings: 

Establish the ‘why’

Make sure each meeting that is convened has a clear objective or purpose. Don’t just meet for meeting’s sake. If there is no discernible outcome that you are aiming for, the meeting isn’t worth happening.

Pick the right people

Make sure that the right people are in the meeting. That means people who have decision-making authority; people who’s creativity on the subject can offer unseen alternative solutions; and key leaders of the activities being discussed should be the core members of important meetings.

Keep it short

There are no rules that say every meeting must last at least an hour. Meetings as short as 15 minutes can be very effective, provided you prepare well for each.

Build an agenda

An agenda is important for the flow of meetings. It is also important for memorializing decisions and assignments. But maybe the most important, agendas are designed to help you (and your team) be productive.

Design the structure

Whether it’s a reporting-out meeting, an update meeting or a brainstorming session, each meeting should be designed in a way where there are pre-specifications that are measurable. This allows meeting facilitators to opportunity to evaluate the relative success of their meeting styles.

Everyone participates

If you have the right people in a room, then every voice in the room has an important contribution to the success of the meeting. Make sure everyone has an opportunity to share their perspectives.

Get agreement and follow up

An effective agenda helps participants get agreement on the relevance of specific issues, thereby allowing for the editing of items to be discussed. Once decisions are made in a meeting, there needs to be an acknowledgment of all of the follow up activities that are assigned.

 If you have other meeting design suggestions to increase productivity, please share your ideas in the comment section below.

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Get Agreement To Move Your Agenda Forward

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Last week I was in Michigan giving a presentation to a group of leaders about the importance of adopting universally understood leadership language. This notion of leadership language was preceded by commonly asked question of managers across industries: “How can you get the concept of engagement to show up in behavior and performance of associates and team members?”

The short answer I gave was practice.

Providing leaders of teams with a common language to talk about performance and behavior expectations is half the battle. It’s the “secret sauce” for getting team buy-in. And once you have a common language, everyone has to practice using it, in order for there to be a common measure of performance.

Some organizations use assessment tools to establish behavioral norms.

For example, using behavioral interviewing tools, pulse surveys, personality and/or problem-solving tests to begin establishing a set of expectations from potential employees. And once they are on the team, organizational norms are further reinforced by training modules.

Below is a partial list of tools that organizations can use to help develop a common language and shared values amongst team members:

Regardless of the tools selected, each of these assessments offer unique approaches to establish organizational language that, if adopted, can serve as foundational blocks for determining the types of behaviors that are expected in your organization. And if those blocks are set, they can then be used to inform the written and spoken materials that describe the culture your organization hopes to display.

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For example, what do you mean when you things like: “I want my associates to be more engaged.” or “Our teams are operating in silos.” or “We lack good communication in our organization.”? It’s these types of assessment tools that can narrow the definitions of the terms you want to be a part of your organization’s lexicon.

Finally, when your organization’s “cultural artifacts” are on display, you will need “ambassadors” that exemplify the qualities needed to succeed in your culture. These are people that walk the walk, talk the talk and are able to translate the nuances that form your unique culture. And this is where finding support from outside your organization can be a competitive advantage.

While applying the tools noted above can be straightforward, getting an accurate interpretation of the results of the assessments is often done best by people outside the organization. The role of a change management consultant, for example, is to be able to help leadership see how well or poorly new language is taking hold with an organization. That same consultant must also be able to provide a set of measures that can track the team’s adherence to the new language being used to change culture.

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All of this work is designed to help companies identify, validate, practice and improve ways of engaging employees, who in turn represent your organization’s values to your customers. Further, it provides managers & supervisors (often considered the most important roles within organizations) with actionable data to move the needle on engagement in your company.

The more employees understand, appreciate and internalize your company’s unique language, the better equipped they are to help others understand and appreciate your company.

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Leader Language Creates Culture

In practice, the concept of lingua franca is familiar to most people.

It’s the commonly used language used by groups to communicate thoughts and ideas that can be shared by diverse groups of people. And in specialized worlds – like that of leadership - it is the common thread that binds the activities and approaches to decision-making that help frame the ideas of organizations.

Visionary leaders have always used language to express their grandest ideas that would change the world. They are masters at figuring out how to get the rest of us to adopt their language to express our own intentions.

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The kind of leadership that relies on dictate has long passed most organizations by as antiquated, ineffective and unsustainable (despite what some public discourse may sound like today). Instead, the idea of influencing behavior by tapping into what affirmatively motivates people is how the most successful leaders of our day operate.

Whether it’s the language of finance, community organizing, healthcare or technology transfer, the people we revere as transformational in their fields use language to motivate, inspire and shape the cultures that they find themselves in.

I would venture to say 75 percent of a leader’s role is to communicate expectations, inspire people to perform to their abilities, course correct when work is off course and transmit the importance of everyone’s participation to the larger goal of a project or enterprise.

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To successfully do those things, leaders must possess a number of technical skills that are essential to understanding what “perfect performance” looks like in a given field. But, once a leader is able to demonstrate her technical bona fides, much of the rest of her portfolio is really about inspiring, convincing, influencing and praising the golden triangle of stakeholders for any organization: the company, the customers and the collaborators.

Noah Zandan, CEO of Quantified Communications once noted in an article published by Inc. Magazine that there are several ways visionary leaders can best create an inspirational lingua franca for your organization:

·      Use more of the present tense versus future tense language when speaking about your organization

·      Talk more about your team more than you do about the institution or yourself

·      Use more sensory or feeling language to describe how things appear

This advice goes for the language you use in written materials, as well. Transmitting a “sense” of “who” your organization is can have equally motivating impacts on people that are (or want to be) associated with your team.

I’m also reminded of Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why when considering how to use language to inspire. In it, he posits that people are inspired by “a sense of purpose”. It is that connection that must be made in order for a resonant lingua franca to begin to take hold and reflect your culture.

Below are a series of questions leaders should be asking themselves on a regular basis when seeking to figure out if he is using language that reflects inspiration:

·      How do you transmit vision?

·      How do you praise good performance?

·      How do you constructively criticize misses?

·      How often are you “walking the shop floor”?

·      At what point in a process do you offer praise for good performance?

·      At what point in a process do you offer criticism for poor performance?

·      Do you check to see if the language you use to lead is understood by your audience?

·      Does the language you use to talk about that vision support your vision?

·      Are new employees “taught” your organization’s lingua franca in a systematic way?  

All of these questions and many others ought to be considered when thinking about the development of a robust and inviting culture in your organization. Let us know if any of these concepts are helpful as you begin changing your own workplace cultures.

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