Three Meeting Shifts That Will Change Your Leadership Productivity
Meetings are killing your company, but the switch is easier than you think.
Fiona ran out of one meeting room, juggling an empty coffee cup, a notebook and laptop, and a full bladder down the hall to the next room. A finance meeting just finished, and now there is a meeting on HR policy.
Even though she was in the previous meeting for 30 minutes, she isn’t sure of what the actual outcomes of the meeting were, and if she had any actions, she didn’t write them down.
At the end of the day, she’ll know that she spent most of her day in a meeting room and none of it progressing the things she needed too. It is this culture that is killing your company, but it doesn’t need to be this way.
There is a different way of operating that increases employee engagement, productivity and quality. And the best thing is, the switch isn’t that hard. You just need to change to three basic meetings.
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Currently, your meetings are relentless
We have reached a point where faced with an topic, it is more common to have a meeting to discuss something than to do anything else.
The only tool in the tool-kit for organisations right now, is to convene a meeting. In doing so, you need to manicure the perfect attendance list, or just invite nearlty all the leadership team in case you can’t work through it without the right representatives.
Sadly, it is the latter that happens most.
For this reason those in team leader positions rarely have control of their calendars. They rarely have control of their work time, and any illusion of control at work is down to the small amount of control they can wield in any meeting.
The relentless crush of meetings is debilitating and it takes away the three key energies of work;
- Time to focus; Cal Newport has given the world some key concepts. But in my opinion, his most important is the concept of Deep Work. This is the focussed, un-distracted time where the problems get solved, the strategies developed, and the key documents written. With a series of back-to-back 30 minute meetings, there is no time for deep work.
- Switching-fatigue; When you have a 15-minute chat with a subordinate about a personal matter they’ve brought to you, then a strategic planning session, then a sales performance meeting, followed by a phone call with a hiring candidate. You quickly realise that you are struggling to switch between them all. Your energy drops and you become less and less effective.
- Missing conversations; As a leader, you have a role to connect with your team, to understand them so you can challenge them in the right ways. Being in a meeting is not the same as connecting with them. That time you are locked away in the meeting room, you are not in the office available to help your team.
But there is a different way, you can find a way to minimise meetings for updates and status checks, and make the meetings you do have far more powerful.
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If meetings run too long, back to back, and don’t deliver required outcomes. What can you do differently?
There are some tips you can bring across from a different mindset. The agile mindset. It decreases sporadic lengthy meetings for updates with shorter daily ‘stand-ups’, and removes status meetings altogether. The only time meetings are scheduled are for planning or problem solving.
Here is the how you switch.
Meetings take three forms; Planning, Status and Problem.
Planning meetings generally occur once a year for a business and then each team is given their targets and goals. Or if you are working in a project, they will occur at the beginning and define the goals and assign the tasks.
But nothing ever changes during the year, or during the project, right?
In an ideal world, the plan is always current and the assigned tasks are always relevant, but it never works out that way.
A better method is to do this;
Plan at the start of the year in three horizons; the next 3 months, 3 to 9 months and 9 to 18 months.
What do you want to achieve in the next three months, plan this in detail with the leadership team. Be specific, set targets and goals and identify areas of change to focus on.
Then think about the six months following that, what are the themes you’d like to attack in that period, how do you need to position the workforce and the company.
Does any of that change your first three month priorities? You do not need the same detailed requirements, but you should be able to explain each of them and how your current work moves the business in that direction.
Then think about the longer term strategy for the business. What is the direction you need to take to move the company in line with those longer term goals. What are the areas in which your company can establish itself in the market and create a workplace that energises the workforce to achieve it?
Once you have planned out your three horizons with all the input of the leadership team, you get the input from the workforce to refine the three month view. They need to be involved and work out if they can achieve the required goals in that time, or if there are any blockers to achieving it.
Then, every month, you do the whole thing again, but you just adjust it on the latest information you have. Input from the environment, input from the teams and input from the longer range plans to bring one more months worth of work into the team.
This makes your plan always relevant and always briefed and designed with the team. You plan more frequently, but in smaller chunks. You need to be diciplined to achieve this.
Status meetings are the worst, one person speaks and everyone else listens in turns. Normally weekly for up to an hour depending on the team size, and on average you get 10 minutes of value from that meeting. That 10% efficiency.
With everyone involved in the planning meetings once a month, then there is no need to update them on that. Status meetings can be removed altogether for more frequent but shorter update and blocker meetings.
Borrowing from the agile processes of daily standups, a 15-minute meeting that everyone uses to identify their task/s for the day and if there are any things they require to progress their tasks (any blockers to progress) is a more efficient way of statusing work.
Everyone gets a few minutes to identify with their boss the help they need, it gives everyone explicit permission to ask for help on something.
Kill the weekly status update by better visibility of the planning and then looking to maximise progress by removing any blockers for your team.
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Your team and the business will run into problems, you traditionally become aware of them during those weekly meetings where you go around the table. Now you will learn of them when blockers are identified.
In the scenario where you need support from other teams you need to convene a problem solving session — not a meeting.
You set one specific goal, to solve the problem, work needs to be done before the meeting to investigate the root cause. Get use to doing the five why’s investigative approach (asking why five times to get to the root of the problem).
Your team needs to know that the problem needs to be solved, in line with achieving the tasks. If there are any things outside of the control of the teams invited, it needs to be escalated to the leadership as a risk.
This is the most important of the meetings and needs the most curation, preparation and discipline in execution. You need to continually focus the attendees on the problem, even if others are identified along the way.
No more wasted meetings
Give every one of your meetings a specific purpose, and maintain the discipline for each.
Here’s the thing. If our team has visibility of the plan, knows they can get their problems sorted each morning, and understand the process to get the bigger problems solved. You don’t need to be in a heap of meetings all day.
Your calendar suddenly becomes free of all the rest of the meetings, you can spend more time reflecting on the horizons, looking at potential problems and coaching your team through their own personal improvements and knowledge.
Free up your schedule and your mind, and achieve more in your day using these three fundamental shifts.
Try it, see if it doesn’t improve your time at work.
Inspired by life. Leadership, Growth, Personal Development. Engineer and Sports Enthusiast. Top Writer in Leadership. https://medium.com/@spurtapurton