The View from HR

How to avoid bad and unproductive meetings

February 9, 2013 

My current leadership fixation is a simple and powerful tool for making better decisions.

The concept: If managers would work harder to raise and resolve business issues in the right meeting with the right preparation, meetings would be much more effective and enjoyable.

Have you sat in meetings where trivial issues dominate the conversation or big issues get too little time? Welcome to the major problem with bad meetings.

Rather than relying on the same weekly or monthly “kitchen sink” session for nearly all purposes, what if the small matters, short-term challenges, critical one-time issues and larger strategic needs each had their own format?

This is what I mean. Say your HR manager is working on strategies and tactics to improve culture, build cross-silo interaction and make celebration a regular feature. They might want to bring pieces of that program in one by one and ask for a few minutes at the leadership team’s weekly session.

Objections, anecdotes

But watch what happens: The short looks at pieces of the program and the lack of advance reading and preparation by the team (perhaps made worse by lack of presenter preparation) will doom a comprehensive program and keep the pieces from fitting. Yes, there may be a vigorous debate, but over the wrong things. Objections and anecdotes will prevail and nothing – or the wrong thing – will be resolved.

What went wrong? This was a big topic that deserved more than top-of-mind reaction by busy people who did not understand the broad proposal. The same thing happens when very small matters dominate the wrong kind of meeting because they are emotional or the advocate is loud and persistent.

The solution might be a new set of habits for your team.

Two things are at the core of better meetings: understanding the type of meeting you are attending and enforcing a process to move ill-fitting issues to another kind of meeting.

4 essential tactics

I like Patrick Lencioni’s description of effective meetings in his book “The Advantage.” He describes four essential tactics (three of which we use at our organization):

1) The Daily Huddle (very quick updates and calls for help).

2) The Weekly Tactical (a one-hour, real-time agenda of the key initiatives each person has, and status check on the most important company priorities and resolution of one to three issues).

3) The Ad Hoc Topical (irregular meetings set to decide critical issues requiring advance notice and preparation).

4) The Quarterly Review (for strategic discussions, scanning and learning). A parking lot process ensures off-topic issues get to another meeting better suited for their resolution.

Too many meetings? Not if the right issues are raised in the right settings receiving the right attention. Boring meetings? Not if we know going in what is expected of us and we are at the right level of preparation (or spontaneity) for the setting.

Try a more purposeful meeting regimen to improve decision-making – and maybe even your own sanity.

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is president and CEO of CAI Inc., a human resource management firm, with locations in Raleigh and Greensboro, that helps organizations maximize employee engagement while minimizing employer liability. For more information, visit www.capital.org.

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