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Finally, a meeting that’s worth your time

Finally, a meeting that’s worth your time

Meetings should be managed to get things done quickly and effectively, with maximum output and minimal time loss.

  • November 06, 2014
  • min read

Article

Finally, a meeting that’s worth your time

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Some companies would benefit from holding more meetings. That notion might seem at odds with some of my recent blog posts, namely “Let’s Fix It: Kill the Weekly Meeting,” but I don’t think meetings are inherently evil. The right type of meeting, run well, can yield good outcomes.

That might entail adding or redesigning a meeting. At the typical large organization, senior executives spend less than three hours a month working together as a team, and usually less than three hours discussing strategic issues. The result: Constant frustration. Poorly considered decisions. Bad investments and missed opportunities. And this applies to managers and staff at all levels.

It doesn’t need to be this way, because individual leaders can make a difference. My Bain colleagues and I have worked with clients to manage their meetings to get things done quickly and effectively, with maximum output and minimal time loss. We’ve found that several techniques work well:

Separate operations from strategy. Operational matters require detailed discussion and analysis. Strategy requires a big-picture, forward-looking view. The two mindsets are different, and the two kinds of topics mix poorly. The executive board of a major European bank, for instance, once spent its twice-weekly meetings reviewing loans and discussing daily operations. But then competition heated up, and the bank found itself struggling to hit its targets. A new chairman eliminated one of the weekly operations meetings and added a monthly day-long session on strategy, where the board could make significant resource-allocation choices. The group made better, faster decisions, and wasted less time.

Focus on decisions, not discussion. Simple, easily implemented changes in protocol often have big effects. For example, senior management at Intel makes it standard practice to begin every meeting with a single statement: “The purpose of this meeting is to inform you about X, to discuss Y and to decide on Z,” where Z is a specific, well-defined decision.

Prioritize high-value items. Management author Stephen Covey famously urged executives to distinguish between the important and the merely urgent, and to ensure that important matters received the attention they merit. A useful tool for identifying important decisions is a decision architecture— essentially, a list of key decisions along each step of a business’s value chain, prioritized by the value at stake and the degree of management attention required. You can create such a list for your unit or function, and then use it as a guide for setting meeting agendas. Without it, the urgent is likely to displace the important.

Introduce a common language for decision roles. The executive team of a large insurance company found it difficult to make decisions because of the company’s deep-rooted consensus culture. Finally the CEO introduced a tool we call "RAPID," which lets a team assign specific roles to each member. (R is for Recommend, A for Agree, P for Perform, I for Input, D is for the decision maker.) Once the team was accustomed to the tool, one executive said, “We go into a meeting now and people say, ‘Who has the D?’ and ‘Who has the R?’ It streamlines everything.”

Make decisions stick. Managers at many companies waste countless hours reviewing and revisiting decisions that should have been made only once. So make a point of summarizing the decisions made at a meeting, along with commitments and to-dos for follow-up (with deadlines!). Then record these in a decision log and review the follow-up at the next meeting.

When you hold meetings that adhere to these techniques, people will leave not with a sense of frustration but with a sense of accomplishment.

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