Effective Meeting Models

February 17, 2014

In Death by Meeting, Patrick Lencioni provides an effective meeting model, but it doesn’t work for all organizations or every type of meeting. A restaurant might benefit from a quick standing meeting with employees, for instance, to go over that day’s roles and responsibilities (as well as new menu items). At a commercial real estate company, however, a daily check-in might feel more onerous than necessary.

Today’s post is on regularly scheduled meetings—when to have them, what to include, and why. Some of these meetings may be right for your organization, and others may not. Consider adding new ones or canceling others based upon your organization’s particular needs. You want to find the golden mean of not too many meetings, but not too few either. You want the meetings you hold to be effective.

Don’t feel beholden to the types of scheduled meetings you’ve had in the past. Be intentional about scheduled meetings. Meetings shouldn’t feel like death. They should feel timely and purposeful.

Annual Strategic Review and Planning Meeting

“Begin with the end in mind,” the late Stephen Covey reminded us. The annual strategic review and planning meeting is a time to give thought to the end—the end of the year that’s just passed and the end of the year to come. The goal is to set up a clear and coherent plan with monthly and weekly milestones, so that these ends are realized.

The annual strategic review and planning meeting takes time. Often companies rush this process because of the cost of retaining outside support and/or the cost of being away from the office. These companies wind up with plans that are willfully ignored because the destination no longer applies. Or the destination is too fuzzy to be remembered by employees as the year goes along.

The annual strategic review and planning meeting is not a place to skimp. This is where great insight and dramatic breakthroughs can arise. These breakthroughs and insights usually come from a deliberate and thorough process: reviewing progress against the previous year’s plan; stress-testing the organization’s values, vision, mission, organizational strategies, objectives, operational strategies, and actions; examining internal and external market research; and using a SWOT process to identify the appropriate organizational strategies and actions.

This annual strategic review and planning meeting may take as long as a week (because you will be pre-deciding how to act should certain key assumptions come to pass), but when done well it leads to a more purposeful and energized commitment to the future. People won’t lose sight of the destination midway through the year. They know where they’re headed and why.

Quarterly Strategic Review Meeting

Our ability to predict the future is getting more and more difficult as the population grows, markets shift, competitors switch strategies, and systems interact. This lack of certainty and inability to accurately predict our environment has led many organizations to meet more frequently to reaffirm direction and, if necessary, to re-align (based upon new threats or opportunities). Adding three quarterly review meetings (the fourth will simply be combined with the annual planning meeting) allows you to review how your strategic plan is holding up. In some organizations, it’s also an opportunity to rein in an entrepreneur who may be subverting the annual plan because of a burning desire to implement a new, new idea!

Monthly Staff Meetings

Monthly staff meetings are usually reserved for reviewing financial performance, balance scorecard objectives, and major actions that have been forecasted in the annual strategic planning meetings. It’s an opportunity to assess what is working and what isn’t.

Your financial statements should be closed no later than five business days into the next month (If it is taking longer, your financial person needs to speed the process up. I was once told it could only be done in 14 days; we made it an organizational objective, and, sure enough, it got done in two business days.) The financial report should be sent prior to the meeting and read by all participants. There is no bigger waste of time than reviewing data together as a group.

Each staff member should be prepared to give a short report that contains explanations for positive and negative deviations from the plan as well as their expectations going forward. Naturally, it’s best for everyone to receive the monthly numbers a few days prior to preparing these short reports. It’s even better if the staff members send out their reports prior to the meeting. As I mentioned above, reviewing data as a group is usually a waste of time. Meetings should be reserved for meaningful discussion.

Among the items up for discussion may be the larger topics that surface in the shorter weekly and daily meetings—ones that are put in the proverbial parking lot. While monthly meetings are a good time to have these larger-topic discussions, be careful not to schedule too many items for any one meeting.

Monthly meetings may be as short as 90 minutes or as long as 4 hours. I have known companies to have the meeting last a full day. Ugh. There are only so many all-day meetings that people can and ought to handle.

Weekly Operational Meetings

Weekly operational meetings should be kept under 90 minutes. Many senior executives become very impatient in these weekly meetings, and they tend to speed up topics that need more time. As a result, the organization never truly deals with these issues and begins to develop work-arounds and work-avoidance behaviors. Rather than try to rush through big, intense issues, put them in a parking lot for your monthly or quarterly meetings and allocate enough time to vet them fully.

The focus of weekly meetings should be on reaching the milestones established in the annual and quarterly reviews. If gaps emerge, action plans must be developed.

If you’re looking for a new approach to weekly meetings, try using the 5/15 report developed by CEO Yvon Chouinard.

Daily Check-in Meeting:

Daily meetings can be as short as 10 minutes or as long as 30. The purpose is to provide headlines or sound bites of critical information needed for those on the team to effectively do their jobs. If there are decisions that need to be authorized, try signing off on all approvals during this meeting, rather than having your day disrupted multiple times. Research tells us that it takes the average person 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on task after an interruption, and complete shifts in focus (like most approval requests) are the most disruptive.  

Daily meetings are usually scheduled early in the day, so that everybody is in alignment and aware of critical information from the start. I prefer to sit for these types of meetings, but some like to do them standing. Some even “meet” over the phone on their drive in to the office.

If you’re having trouble keeping these meetings short or want to improve summarizing skills, here are some activities you might try: 

  1. Have each employee take a magazine article or a book on a complicated topic and have them summarize that topic in 60 seconds or less.
  2. Use the CAR Method of interviewing for sharing information: Challenge, Action, Result.
  3. Use an egg timer to ensure people get to the point quickly.
  4. Instead of complaining, turn your complaint into a request.

Remember this is not a prescriptive list; each business must find its business rhythm and discover what types of meetings work best. You want to find the golden mean of meeting enough, but not too much. And you want those meetings to feel timely and purposeful. Do they?

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