Avoid Horrible Meetings

A client asked me to observe his weekly leadership team meeting and it was one of the worst meetings I had attended in a long time. Every leader in the room should have been upset because they essentially wasted 90 minutes. More concerning was the fact that leadership rated it a great meeting.

Might you and your leaders unconsciously fall into the same traps as my client? After all, the agenda and process for the meeting is common practice and is prescribed by EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) Implementers all around the world. The problem was not the process or EOS, it was the way it was being implemented. Let’s dissect what happened and then discuss what should happen in every weekly meeting.

Form Over Substance

The overriding problem was form over substance. The team followed a proven process and yielded the wrong outcomes. The meeting involved a standard agenda, covered the topics, engaged everyone, started on time, and finished on time. From a theoretical standpoint it appeared to be a well-run meeting. And my client rated it so!

Here are the primary reasons I would rate the meeting horrible:
1. Clarity of Purpose
2. Undervaluing time
3. Little (if any) conflict
4. Lack of accountability
5. Failed to address serious problems

Clarity of Purpose

Are your meetings more focused on purpose or process? Purpose focuses on intended outcomes and process focuses agendas, start and end time, checking the boxes, and having the meeting in the first place. The problem with process is that you can follow it flawlessly and not accomplish your purpose. The challenge with standard operating procedures is the presumption that conditions don’t change. When it comes to leadership meetings, we are always operating in turbulent conditions, so we need to have flexible standard operating procedures that adjust the process to accomplish our purpose.

The purpose of the weekly leadership meeting is to:
• Share key information across the team
• Break silos
• Keep focus on the top priorities
• Hold people accountable when they are off track
• Solve big issue(s) together

Agendas are typically designed to identify the key information that needs to be shared. Personal update, business update, customer feedback, employee feedback, priority status, to-do status, metrics update, and key company and department challenges. After providing this information the team identifies topics, prioritize, and discuss key topics, and agree on solutions. This is precisely what my client did. So, you are probably thinking, this sounds like they should have had a great meeting. What’s the problem?

Information was shared and after 45 minutes none of the key issues in the company were raised. Yes, they identified issues, but it was all small issues. This company had major issues and none of them were brought to the table. When issues were addressed, half the room would check out when it was not their issue. Leaders had opinions and observations that should be raised, and they did not. Worse, most of the issues discussed was a quick conversation between two people that should have happened and could have been resolved before the meeting. These people are all in the same building, are steps away from each other and clearly have not been talking.

Had this meeting addressed its purpose, the leadership team would have spent a lot of time discussing their number 1 issue, people. Certain vacant positions were causing the company to miss opportunities. Keeping the wrong people was costing them money. And, there was no confidence in how this would be resolved. Every leader has a hand in this obstacle and failure to address was costing this company over $1 Million in profit. This discussion should happen every week until results prove that the plan is in place that is showing the progress necessary to capture the $1 Million.

Key Observation: Focus on making major improvement to your business every week. Leadership meetings should limit the small stuff.

Undervaluing Time

If your week is like most leaders, time is always an issue. Time is finite and if we don’t use it wisely the company and performance suffers. When we have meetings, we are investing time just like we would money. When you allow for a bad meeting, one that fails to speed up taking advantage of big opportunities and eliminating your bottlenecks, it is costing you dearly. In the case of the people issue (identified above), it is costing the company $20K in profit each week.

Have you ever wondered why time is being squandered? I have given this significant thought and find two reasons to be the main culprit. First, we tend to avoid the elephants in the room. The elephants are the big problems. To resolve them is difficult, it can take considerable thought, requires conflict, and takes significant steps and time to address. As a result, we go after the small stuff. Second, it feels good to check items off the task list. As problem solvers by nature, we feel good when we solve a volume of problems. However, most of the problems would go away or be different if you addressed the elephants.

In the client example, it was considered important to finish and end on time. Because this occurred, the meeting was rated well. Based on the content and discussion, this meeting should have been completed in 60, not 90 minutes. Most weekly meetings, when focused, can be completed in 30 minutes. In my client’s case, the extra time was caused by taking 45 minutes for ideation and updates. Not only did they spend time focusing on minor issues, but they also spent too much doing it. I plan 60-minute meetings with a 30-minute buffer. While I expect to get done in 60 minutes, there are times when the issue is big and important. It is crucial that you finished discussing and prescribing a solution before leaving the meeting. Failure to do so adds a week delay in addressing important issues. In addition, it causes more time to solve the same problem because you lose momentum in the discussion.

Key Observation – Get better at increasing the value from holding meetings and have the discipline to get done in shorter periods of time. Reward the team with unscheduled time when this happens, and they will go back and get more ROI from their time. A key measure of a successful meeting is identifying and measuring the value of the decisions and actions from the meeting.

Break Silos and Encourage Conflict

I have participated in thousands of meetings. The difference between great and ordinary leadership team meetings is how leaders engage in meetings. In great meetings, everyone in the room is playing to win and there are no sacred cows. Everyone demands excellence, want to contribute value, and cannot stand for bulls#@t. If you get through a meeting and there is little conflict, your meeting suffered one of the following:

1. You are discussing insignificant items.
2. There is a lack of trust

Healthy conflict needs to be mandatory. If you are discussing a difficult issue, there should be varying opinions as to the definition of the issue, multiple ways to solve the problem, and rarely consensus on actions to take. It takes vigorous debate, challenging each other’s assumptions, questions about sources of information, and so on. While I am certain there are moments where this happens in your meetings, how often? What percentage of your meeting involves conflict?

In my experience, a lack of conflict occurs because of the highest-ranking person in the room. For conflict to happen, this person must be more curious, and listening rather than talking too much. After all, they already know their opinion. The job is to access everyone else’s brains. It is important to understand everyone’s perspective on a subject. Even when it is not in their area of expertise. Some of the best ideas and perspectives come from those people that seem the least qualified to contribute. In every meeting everyone should expect to share and contribute ideas. They should truly be part of the decisions. Our job in meetings is to co-create.

We also need to be vigilant about three types of circumstances:

1. Politics
2. Low Contributors
3. Negative Influencers

You can identify politics when people are not speaking their mind. Their body language, tone and past discussions on a subject indicate whether they are speaking up. When people are saying what others want to hear or staying quiet because they are avoiding going against the grain, this is politics.

Key Observation: By making people speak up you help them grow as leaders. You get more and better ideas and break siloed thinking. We want to not only hear everyone, but we also want to understand why they have come to their conclusions.

Lack of Accountability

We must hold the team accountable for achieving company and department priorities and goals. While this is obvious, it is not happening in most organizations and execution suffers. While my client presented the status of priorities and goals, it was a farce, and no one spoke up but me.

First, when leaders presented their metrics, almost everyone one of them was red. Red should be an indicator of poor performance. In an accountable organization when this goes on for too long someone should be fired. When I saw how many metrics were red, I asked “how long they had been red.” The team answered “forever.” Essentially their targets were not real expectations and did not represent reasonable expectations. Targets for the week, month, and quarter for every metrics must represent present conditions. Failure to adjust them accordingly leads to an environment where it becomes impossible to be accountable.

Secondly, this team recently set new priorities and had concluded that the old priorities were too shallow and would not drive needed results. Instead of updating their scorecards they reported on old priorities. Worse, since there were no clear milestones and due date for action steps it was impossible to know whether leaders were on track to complete their priorities. Thus, the priority status update was bogus.

Key Observation: When metrics and priorities are not properly developed it is impossible to hold someone accountable until it is too late.

In conclusion, by having meetings that achieve their purpose, you will be able to grow your organization faster and with less effort. You must properly use time when you hold weekly leadership team meetings. Time is best used solving “big” rather than small issues. Your company would be better off solving one big issue rather than lots of small ones. The big issues relate to quarterly priorities and show up when metrics are below meeting a reasonably high standard. You know that you have hit gold, when you are having constructive conflict and rigorous debate.

Effective Meetings Have Conflict

Effective Meetings

Are your meetings boring? Do your meetings result in everyone feeling more engaged after you are done? How many meetings does it take before you can make a key decision? Are your meetings mainly status updates? Are the meetings dominated by one or two leaders? Is the senior leader dictating to everyone else what they must do? How well aligned are everyone’s priorities? Do leaders hold each other accountable? Do all the leaders really say what they are thinking? Are everyone’s ideas heard? Do people leave feeling stressed?

If your meetings fit any of the descriptions above, then the good news is that your meetings can be a lot more productive than they currently are.

How to Measure The Success of a Meeting

Most often, leaders are concerned that there are too many meetings, that meetings are too long, or they are measuring the effectiveness with another incorrect measurement. I suggest changing the measurement system in which you determine the effectiveness of your meetings.

For example, a good leading indicator that something important is being discussed is that there are different opinions — or conflict — and that most of the people in the room are engaged in the discussion. Other indicators of good meetings are the number of critical decisions made, new actions developed, number of new ideas created and accepted, and an increase in percentage of goals achieved.

These are real indicators that your meetings are worthwhile. If you have a really good meeting, then everyone leaves feeling invested in the decisions that were made and are better aligned as a team! If you run your meeting well, the participants should leave feeling stretched but not stressed.

Every Meeting Should Have Healthy Conflict

There should be good, healthy conflict in every good meeting, and people should venture out of their comfort zones. Do not confuse this with stress. Your meeting should be an environment where everyone is stretched and doing their best thinking.

When there is a lack of conflict or engaged dialog among the team, it is an indication you are not talking about anything that requires any real discussion, failing to emphasize the hard-to-achieve goals and key performance indicators, not holding people accountable, not talking about the “elephants in the room” or the real issues going on the in company.

If you are not having this type of regular conflict, you have a problem with your “team”, and I recommend reading “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni. The lack of conflict can be an indication that the foundation of a strong team — trust — is missing.

Run More Effective Meetings

Failure to conduct effective meetings is robbing you of significant growth and profits. Contact Activate Group Inc. for a FREE consultation or give us a call at [phone link=”true”] to see how a business coach can help you run a more effective organization.

Are These 9 Factors Compromising Your Meetings?

In the previous article, we stated that one of the biggest hindrances in business success is the poorly run meeting. Here, we identify 9 factors that can be detrimental to your meetings.

Do You Have Enough Constructive Conflict in Your Meetings?

When everyone participates you arrive at better decisions, have stronger commitment, and get better results. How many meetings does it take before you can make a real decision? Do all the leaders really say what they are thinking, and are everyone’s ideas heard?

Is Your Meeting Agenda Too Long?

Is it possible that you are talking about too many different topics at your meetings and not going deeply enough into any one topic? When you prioritize your issues, focus on the biggest one or two, come to decisions, and establish action plans, you can have a much bigger impact on the company and get a higher return on the brainpower of the meeting participants.

Do You Set Aside Enough Time For Meetings?

It is possible you are not setting aside enough time for meetings. If you find that your organization continues to face the same problems and challenges, discuss the same issues, concerns, people, and customers month after month, it is probable you are not meeting often enough to address the issues.

How Often Should You Meet?

You should be focusing your meetings around decisions, and the nature of the decisions to be made determines the number of meetings to schedule. Highly effective organizations have learned to schedule a good series of daily huddles and weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual meetings that can be carefully designed to get all of the right people together at the same time. Each meeting is assigned a purpose, which is built around specific decisions that need to be made.

Do You Place Importance On Time in Your Meetings?

When you are scheduled to attend an internal meeting or conference call, are you early, just-in-time, casually late, known to reschedule often, or known for being habitually late? Do you take these meetings as seriously as you do those with customers? If you don’t, you are essentially deciding (and communicating to your team) that working on and leading the business is not critical to doing a good job.

How Do You Measure Success of A Meeting?

Do you measure the success of a meeting by the fact that it started or ended on time or by the fact that you completed the meeting’s agenda? In reality, there are many times when you can complete your agenda and fulfill the time requirements yet really have accomplished nothing. I suggest that you need to develop much higher standards for measuring the success of your meetings.

Who Should Be In Your Meetings?

How do you decide who should be in a particular meeting? Just because someone has a specific title or is part of a work group does not entitle or require that person to be in your meeting. There are a number of relevant considerations including: contribution, developmental factors, and productivity.

What are the Meeting Participation Pitfalls?

Each participant has a critical role to play in the meeting. The higher one’s rank in the organization and the team, the more you should be listening and asking questions of that person. Are you doing too much talking?

Do You Have the Right Person Leading the Meetings?

If the person leading the meeting is the most senior person in the meeting, they probably should not be leading the meeting. In addition, how well does the person leading the meeting control the meeting, get everyone involved, and drive effective meeting outcomes?

Call Howard Shore for a FREE consultation at [phone link=”true”] to see how an executive business coach can help you run a more effective business or become a more effective leader.

Who Should Be Included In Your Meetings?

How do you decide who should participate in a particular meeting? Just because someone has a specific title or is part of a work group does not entitle or require that person to be in your meeting. The relevant considerations include: contribution, developmental factors, and productivity.

What Can The Person Contribute?

The most important factor when deciding “who should be included in your meetings” is the purpose of your meeting. By focusing the purpose to a few topics you can limit the number of attendees to only those people who are likely to have significant influence or input on the topics being addressed and maximize the productivity and value that come from your meeting. For example, if the meeting’s purpose is to make a decision on a particular topic, it will be important to have all of the decision-makers and influencers in the room. Failure to do so would result in delaying a decision and fragmenting the discussion.

Other factors to consider when factoring in contribution include: subject matter expertise, functional expertise, and willingness and authority to act. You want to invite people from inside and outside your organization that bring the most value in terms of subject matter expertise. Too often I see leaders are making decisions based on belief rather than knowledge. In addition, they leave out critical functional expertise such as information technology, human resources, and finance. Often these functions are left out of strategic and operational discussions on the front-end. The consequences are fragmented processes and systems, cost over-runs, delays in product launches, cultural breakdowns, etc.

Including the Right People Results in Team Development

Another factor when deciding “who should be included in your meetings” is the development of the team. For your organization to grow, your people need to grow. Including people from different levels in the same meeting it helps everyone grow. While the lower-level people may contribute less in the meetings they have a chance to learn from being in the meetings. It also gives you and the other leaders a chance to transfer your DNA to a broader audience. In addition to increasing the size of your meetings slightly to include “high-potentials” you may want to also consider a rotation program that allows everyone to have exposure to your meetings over the course of the year. This gives you the benefit of helping them grow, and you may be surprised by their input.

Including the Right People Results In Increased Productivity

Two other important stakeholders usually excluded from meetings are the people that need to execute your ideas/decisions and the people that will block them. In the former group are the front-line people that really have a sense of what it takes to get things done. Too often, I find leaders are big-picture people that may have subject-matter expertise but have lost touch (if they ever had it) with what it really takes to get things done. In addition, they underestimate the detractors and do not consider the people aspects of driving change in their organization. We not only need the thinkers and deciders in the room, we need some doers.

Call Howard Shore for a FREE consultation at [phone link=”true”] to see how an executive business coach can help you run a more effective business or become a more effective leader.

What are the Meeting Participation Pitfalls?

How well are your meetings functioning? Through this series of articles I have been highlighting the many factors that must be considered for your meetings to go well. While conducting your meeting there are several meeting participation pitfalls that your meeting facilitator should help you avoid.

Are You Potentially Seeing Your Role in the Wrong Way?

The most serious meeting participation is the leader who wants to give the answers to everyone in the room.  Don’t get me wrong there are times when we need answers from the senior leader but this should be rare. Great leaders see their role in the meeting is to ask the right questions and to access the ideas of their team. They realize there are many ways to do things and there is rarely a right or wrong answer. So they put big ideas on the table, ask difficult questions, and get the team to debate those ideas. Once hearing everyone’s point of view they then combine that with their opinions and make the best decisions possible given the circumstances. The leader’s job is to access the brains of the team, not to be the brain.

Do You Have A Tendency To Jump In To Problem Solving Mode Too Quickly?

Another common mistake I see in meetings is the tendency to jump too quickly in to problem solving mode. As soon as a meeting participant raises an issue, concern or problem everyone moves too quickly to find a solution or provide an answer. The value of having multiple people available is to first determine the real problem to solve. The best value participants can bring is asking great questions.  It is common that a presenter consciously or unconsciously leaves out important information that the other participants need to know. Usually once these facts are uncovered you may find that there is a more fundamentally or broader issue to solve than the original symptom that was mentioned at the onset.

Is Everyone’s Contribution Being Heard?

Another common meeting participation pitfall is how the leader of the meetings goes about making sure that everyone gets involved in the meeting. There are a some dimensions to this issue.

 

1. Failure to Voice Your Opinions, Questions, and Concerns

If you do not contribute, you have wasted your time and everyone else’s. Everyone has something to contribute. Failure to speak up begs the question “why are you there to begin with.” It is important that leaders recognize those people in the room that have lower self-confidence and tend to defer to others and make sure you are accessing their brain power. For many people, failure to speak in meetings did not mean they did not have a lot of value to bring. It is your job to make sure that you get it.

2. Over-contributing

Have you ever attended a meeting and there is person in the room that has to have their opinion heard on every point? They hog up all the talk time! These people seem to love to hear their own voice and think that because they are talking they are the smartest and most valuable people in the room. These people need to be taught to give others a chance to speak and should be limited to the amount of time they are permitted to speak.

3. Active Listening

It is important to identify what is not being said. Watching people’s body language, listening to tone, and understanding why they say what they do is many times more important than what they say. 93% of communication is not the words people use. A good leader is actively listening during the meeting. This helps ensure that when decisions are made and plans are set that everyone is committed.

Improving Meeting Participation as a Manager or Leader

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How Do You Measure The Success of A Meeting?

Measuring the Effectiveness of Meetings

How do you know whether or not your meeting was successful or effective? Do you measure the success of a meeting by the fact that it started or ended on time or by the fact that you completed its agenda? Many times you can cover your agenda and fulfill the time constraints and yet accomplish nothing. Often I see leaders judge their meetings successful because there was lively discussion. Or people got animated. Or they had fun. One leader showed me long lists of items they talked about during one of their all-day meetings. I suggest that you set much higher standards for measuring the success and effectiveness of your meetings.

Do You View Your Meetings in the Wrong Way?

Are you concerned about the number of meetings you attend or the length of those meetings? If you are leading a business and see your job as working on a business rather than in it, you should expect to be in lots of meetings. So I would get over the number of meetings and length of meetings and instead concern myself with the quality and success of those meetings. In my experience, most organizations are not having too many meetings. They are having too many “bad” meetings.

How Should You Measure Success of A Meeting?

I suggest changing the measurement system to look at meeting effectiveness. For example, a good leading indicator that something important is being discussed is that there are different opinions —conflict— and that most of the people in the room are engaged in the discussion. Other indicators of good meetings are the number of critical decisions made, new actions developed, number of new ideas created and accepted, and increase in percentage of goals achieved. These are real indicators that your meetings are worthwhile. If you have a really good meeting, then everyone leaves feeling invested in the decisions that were made and aligned as a team! If you run your meeting well the participants should leave feeling stretched but not stressed.

Call Howard Shore for a FREE consultation at [phone link=”true”] to see how an executive business coach can help you run a more effective business or become a more effective leader.

Improve Decision Making By Using the Right Communication Style

Business Communication and Decision Making

Are you frustrated by the ineffectiveness of many of your business meetings? Do you find that your team cannot seem to make a final decision on seemingly basic business questions? Do the same issues continue to resurface? Does there not appear to be real commitment to the decisions that do get made? Do you make decisions in meetings and find out later that people who did not speak up during the meeting are raising issues about the topic, thus calling the validity of the decision into question. As an executive business coach, I witness these situations to varying degrees on a daily basis in every organization I deal with. What I find frustrating is that business leaders allow these behaviors to continue. I have also found that the solutions can be as simple as using the right communication style.

How Communication Affects Decision Making in an Organization

Using the right communication style can have a positive affect on decision-making and will lead to a more effective decision-making process in your organization. Unfortunately, many leaders in business think they are communicating appropriately and are not. Even worse, others are watching and are not addressing their communication issue; which is another example of using the wrong communication style in an organization. There are four ways to classify communications in which you are tackling challenging situations, and only one of them is effective.

The 4 Communication Styles in Business:

  1. Passive communication
  2. Passive-aggressive communication
  3. Aggressive communication
  4. Assertive communication

You can either be passive, passive-aggressive, aggressive, or assertive. As you have probably guessed, being assertive is the proper way to effectively communicate in business, especially to the employees working below you. Unfortunately, assertive communication is the least common approach used in business when the conversation gets difficult or uncomfortable.

If you see that business decisions are not being made, that there is no follow-through on decisions that are made, that there are problems holding people accountable, that people are kept on your team long after it has been determined they should be let go, you have issues that require a change in communication style!

The Challenges to Effective Decision Making

I have also observed that the degree of assertiveness a person uses in dealing with people provokes fairly predictable reactions by others; which in turn, helps determine how effective the leader can be within the organization. While your communication is likely situational, most tend to have a recurring style in the way they communicate in difficult or stressful situations. It has occurred to me recently that those organizations that have the biggest challenges with decision-making and follow-through have the fewest leaders using the assertive communication style on a regular basis.

Interested in learning which leadership style you are? Take a look at the following articles:

  1. Are You A Passive Communicator? Learn how passive communication affects business
  2. Are You an Aggressive Communicator? Learn how aggressive communication affects business
  3. Are You A Passive-Aggressive Communicator? Learn how this communication style affects business
  4. Are You An Assertive Communicator? Learn how assertive communication affects business

Howard Shore is an executive business coach that has helped thousands of business and corporate leaders improve their communication style to run a more effective organization. Call Howard Shore for a FREE consultation at [phone link=”true”] to see how an executive business coach can help you run a more effective business or become a more effective leader.

Are You an Assertive Communicator? – Why This Leadership Style Matters

This article is a continuation from “Improve Decision Making by Using the Right Communication Style” where I identified the 4 ways leaders communicate when the conversations get difficult or uncomfortable. This article will help you identify whether you are an assertive communicator and help you understand why that matters!

Why Assertive Communication Matters?

If you are frustrated by the ineffectiveness of many of your meetings, by finding that your team cannot seem to make seemingly basic business decisions, that the same issues continually resurface? Are some decisions made even though there does not appear to be real commitment to those decisions? Do you find out later that the people who did not speak up in a meeting raised issues about the topic, nullifying the decision you thought was made. As an executive business coach, I witness these issues to varying degrees on a daily basis in every organization I deal with. What I find frustrating is that leaders allow the dysfunction to continue. I have found that improving your decision making is as simple as using the right communication style. An assertive communication style rarely has the issues I described above.

Who Is the Assertive Communicator?

The degree of assertiveness you use in dealing with people provokes fairly predictable reactions by others, which in turn help determine how effective you are as a leader. Assertive communication is characterized by honesty, enforces rules, requires results, and is a direct approach that shows concern for yourself and others. It communicates the message that “you are both okay.”

This communication style could be construed as treating all the individuals involved as equal, each deserving of respect, and no more entitled than another to have things done their way. You feel connected to others when you are speaking to them, and you are trying to help them take control of their lives. You address issues and problems as they arise and create environments where others can grow and mature.

How You Handle Performance Problems

The reason assertive communication is so effective is that it combines the positive dimensions of both aggressive and passive communicators. The assertive communicator is goal-oriented and direct, and at the same time is a good listener, considerate, and thoughtful. Thus, the assertive leader bridges the most positive aspects of the two other styles of behavior while at the same time avoiding the negative aspects of those two styles. The assertive style is both a good human relations style and a good team-building style for any organization. The assertive leader is seen as someone who is strong, energetic and is both able and willing to fight for resources needed by the department. Further, the assertive leader does not appear to play favorites, since he or she does not bend rules or fail to enforce rules in an effort to be liked by others. This leadership style is most admired by team members and employees.

If you are interested in learning about the other three styles please visit:

Call Howard Shore for a FREE consultation at [phone link=”true”] to see how an executive business coach can help you run a more effective business or become a more effective leader.