meeting

Three Simple Secrets to Running a Remarkable Meeting

“This is so stupid–they asked for my opinion and then ignored it. I don’t know why I even bother! From now on, I’m going to just shut my mouth and do my work.”

“Arghhh. We keep rehashing the same conversations. Why can’t we make a simple @#%*&% decision?”

“I don’t know why we even try! We make a decision and by the time we get back together, no one has done anything we agreed to.”

Sound familiar?

I’ve heard these words so frequently, in focus groups, in one-on-ones, and even behind closed doors with seasoned managers. If you’ve been working in organizations for any period of time, you may have said them too.

Everyone hates bad meetings. And bad meetings are everywhere.

If you want to be a great manager, build a reputation of running great meetings, and watch for an immediate improvement in who shows up and what they contribute.

Three Simple Secrets to Running a Remarkable Meeting

  1. Communicate a clear objective for the meeting.
    Be clear up front.  Determine if this a “Where are we going?” discussion, or a “How will we get there?” conversation.  If you’re not clear, you don’t have a fighting chance of an organized dialog. Yes. You can have both conversations in the same meeting, but not at the same time. Put it on the agenda. Reinforce it in your opening remarks. Heck, put it in the meeting invite: “By the end of this meeting, we will have decided __________.”People want to know that something will be accomplished with their time. Make that “something” perfectly clear.  One of our Winning Well clients has started including this message in their Outlook invites

    This meeting’s goal is to reach a decision on xxxx, and to begin to define how we will achieve this, we need your best thinking on _______.

  2. Be clear on how decisions will be made.
    Nothing is more frustrating to people than asking for their opinion and ignoring it. Be clear up front as to how the decision will be made.“I need to make this decision, but I would love your input”

    or “We’re going to decide by consensus”

    or “After 30 minutes of discussion, we’re going to take a vote.”Of course, the most important part of this approach is to make a plan and stick to it. If you say the decision will be by consensus, and then hate where the conversation is going and just make the call yourself, you would have been better off making the decision in the shower and communicating it well.

  3. Establish accountability for every decision.
    For every next step stop and ask “Who will do what, by when and how will we know?””Joe’s got this” is not sufficient.” “Joe will talk to Sue and make a decision about X by Friday and send us an email with what they came up with,” works better.

Very few managers run meetings well. Can you imagine the possibilities if you were known as the go-to for holding a great meeting?

The Secret to Holding a Meeting that Gets Results

Does this sound familiar? You went to a meeting where you had invigorating discussions, examined alternatives, came up with a cool plan of action, everyone left the meeting feeling motivated, and then six weeks later you get back together. As everyone enters the room and takes their seat, there are sideways glances, “Did you do that thing we talked about?”

“No…how about you?”

A quick shake of the head and you realize that the great idea everyone talked about has languished.

The prior meeting, the discussions, the new meeting – all of it – are a waste because nothing happened. In fact, it’s worse than doing nothing because now you’ve created negative energy…that feeling that “it doesn’t matter what we talk about because nothing really changes around here.” That corrosive malaise will eat away at your people and leave them looking for excuses to take your next meeting via conference call so they can multi-task and “get real work done.”

Every meeting you hold should produce activities that move results forward, build momentum, and build morale with healthy relationships. You can achieve all this in just ten minutes at the end of every meeting.

The Best 10 Minutes of Every Meeting

At the end of every meeting ask these three commitment questions:

Commitment #1:  Who will do what?

There are actually two questions here:

  1. What is to be done?
  2. Who will do it?

Every task must have a specific person who is responsible to complete it. For smaller decisions there might be only one or two answers to this question. For larger strategic initiatives you might have an entire work plan that outlines dozens of tasks and people responsible.

Commitment # 2 By When?

This one is straightforward. What is the finish line for the tasks people have agreed to complete? When these deadlines are shared and publicly available, everyone is more likely to meet them.

Commitment #3 How Will We Know?

“How will we know?” is the magic question that moves your meeting from good intentions to real-world impact. It’s also the one managers most frequently ignore. “How will we know?” closes the loop from intention to action and creates momentum without you having to spend hours every day tracking down action steps. Here’s how it works: When someone completes a task, what do they do next?

  • Do they need to pass the results to another person or group?
  • Should they update the team and let them know?
  • Will they make a presentation of their findings?
  • Do they report completion in a common area or software?

The specific answers depend on the task and project. What matters is that the accountability and next step are “baked into” the decision. Everyone knows what he or she is accountable to do, the team knows if it’s been completed, and no one is left waiting around for information they need.

Combine these commitments into one sentence: Who does what, by when, and how will we know? and you have the Winning Well Meeting Formula to get clarity, accountability, and results in just ten minutes at the end of every meeting: In fact, you can ask these questions whether you are the positional leader of a group or not. That’s a great way to establish yourself as a leader who gets things done – people notice when you produce clarity, accountability, and results. Don’t let the simplicity of these questions fool you into not using them.  These are the most important ten minutes you’ll spend to make your meetings achieve results.

Winning WellExciting news, the book I’m David Dye and I are publishing is off to the AMACOM for publication this Spring. We’re jazzed and honored that Marshall Goldsmith wrote a smashing foreward. More to come, but in the meantime here’s a peek at the cover.

5 secrets to effective conference calls

5 Big Rules For Productive Conference Calls

It’s easy to fool ourselves into the illusion that “just having a conference call,” instead of a face-to-face meeting or one-on-one, will save time. In fact, it’s that kind of thinking that leaves many managers moving from call to call with little time to connect with their team.

In an attempt to salvage some productivity in their day, they put the phone on mute and try to get real work done at the same time—and don’t pay close attention to much as a result.

A Quick Rant Against Conference Calls

Perhaps you’ve been on one of these soul sucking calls. A direct report stops by, and, grateful for a distraction, you mouth “Oh it’s just our regular update call,” put the phone on mute and attempt to a have a meaningful conversation.

Just when you’re fist-bumping yourself for being a high-energy multi-tasker, you hear your name mentioned…twice. Oh crap. You quickly take the phone off mute, apologize and say, “I was speaking to the mute button,” which of course is technically true. The opinion you offer next is nowhere near as salient as it would have been if you had been paying attention. Your peer IMs you, “What are you doing, aren’t you going to bring up the idea we agreed to last week?” Oh boy, now you’ve ticked her off, and stumble awkwardly into, “Oh, I forgot I do have one more thing to add. You see Janet and I were thinking…” Awkward.

Think Like an Entrepreneur

One thing has been conspicuously missing this past year as I started my own business–no wasteful conference calls. Why? Well first, the last thing I want to charge my clients for is any time that will not add absolute value to them and their bottom line. Second, I don’t want to pay my contractors for a minute of wasted effort that could be working productively to advance our mission of growing leaders around the world. The next time you have a conference call, try thinking like an entrepreneur. Estimate the hourly rate of those attending the call, and see if there’s a more efficient use of their time to get to the result you need.

Big Rules

Look them in the eye

Honestly, one of the biggest reasons my “conference calls” have become so productive is that they’re almost always done over video–for free. Zoom (my favorite), Skype, Go to Meeting, or Google Hangouts all work. You can see facial expressions and get a better read on emotions AND it takes multi-tasking off the table.

Articulate outcomes

Meetings are meant for two things, to move results forward or to build relationships. Be clear on your objectives. Are you there to make a specific decision? Are you working to gain buy-in to a change? Knowing why you have each item on the agenda will go a long way to keeping the call on track.

Invite only necessary players

When you’re considering flying people in for a meeting,  you take a lot of thought to the time out of the field and the expense involved. Don’t let “It’s just a conference call” suck you into a trap of over-inclusion. That kind of thinking compounds quickly.

Segmentize discussion

Use a narrowing agenda. Arrange the more general topics up front and then let people drop off as the topics become more specific. Explain what you’re doing and why in advance, so you don’t get people riled up about secret meetings. Be sure that it’s not always the same people invited to drop first.

End standing calls early and often

I get nervous about weekly check-in calls, mostly because discussion expands to fill the time, when a briefer discussion could do. If a regularly scheduled call is important for your team or project, craft the agenda and estimate the time you think you will need. State that intention up front. “If we keep to our agenda, I think today’s call should only last about 37 minutes. Let’s be as productive as possible so we can all have some time back.”

Done well, conference calls can be an effective and efficient way to get the results you need. A little extra planning can save hours of lost time and productivity.

Are you looking to help your team streamline efforts and produce better results, please call me at 443-750-1249 for a free consultation.

5 Ways To Make Your Meetings More Productive

I texted my colleague: “do you think we both need to attend the 3pm meeting?” He quickly shot back: “Karin, I don’t think anyone needs to go to that meeting. Don’t worry, I’ll represent both of us.”

And there we were two executives, not speaking up in the spirit of being politically correct, and covering for one another to minimize the pain. After all, we had real work to do.

Sometimes, apparently, I’m also the instigator of such meetings. I attended a meeting the other day and every person in the room was on their iPad working except the speaker and I. I stopped the meeting and questioned what appeared to be very rude behavior.

As I soon uncovered, the rest of the participants had held a dry run of the meeting the day before I arrived in town. Since I was the boss they wanted to practice. This entire meeting had turned into a read-out for me. Those meetings should have been consolidated, or the second meeting should have been cancelled: “Karin, we’ve got this.” Or at least become a one-on-one.

They did have this and didn’t need me. Pre-meetings are often a sign of wasted time. Invest in knowing how much your team is preparing to meet with you. Even if you think you’re low maintenance.

Despite my best efforts to change-up the meetings under my influence, I sometimes succumb, keep my mouth shut, and attend my fair share of time-wasters. That’s why when I received this note from a subscriber, I promised to write a blog response and schedule it up next.

I’ll offer my best thinking and hand it over to the LGL village for additional suggestions:

“I just read your recent post, 5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Teamwork, and was personally touched when you started talking about misuse of staff meetings. It seems all I do is have read-out staff meetings and my staff hates them. But, I like it because the team is together as a whole and they learn what each other is working on and it does stimulate great conversation. However, they still hate them and, honestly, I hate them too. I would love to hear your perspective on how to have high-energy staff meetings. What are my alternatives? What can I do to achieve my goal of getting my 12 member team together weekly but not be a boring mess?

Make Your Meetings More Productive

  1. Cancel The Meeting & Create White Space – Pick one afternoon a week or a month that no one can talk to each other. Or take a regularly scheduled meeting, and just cancel it. See what happens over time. See how work gets done. See Jason Fried’s TED Talk: Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work.
  2. Make Each Meeting Unique – Even if you hold a regular weekly meeting, have a clearly defined purpose for each meeting that you articulate in advance. For example, by the end of this meeting we will:
    • identify the most important pages for our website
    • review our declining customer service trends and brainstorm 3 key actions to take this month
    • identify the theme and breakouts for our next symposium

    If your answer is read-out on results and progress on action plans cancel the meeting, and find another way.

  3. Ins-and-outs – Decide who needs to be there for which part of the meeting and then design the agenda accordingly. My weekly staff meetings always have a narrowing effect. We started with the larger group and narrowed as the topics move along. I make it clear that this is not to exclude, but a time-saving exercise.
  4. Stand-up Or Walk Among Yourselves – I’ll admit, when results go down, I intervene more. I’m a big believer in the stand-up huddle. Almost like a time-out check in for the day (or week). I think a big problem with meetings as we see them as sit on your butt occasions. Some of the best meetings start with “got a sec?” Try to emulate that feeling as much as possible. As Nilofer Merchant shares in her TED Talk: Fresh Air Drives Fresh Thinking.
  5. Make them think – I love the idea of Idea Tickets from Michael Michalko: “In advance of a meeting, frame a problem or issue to address. Ask each person to bring, at least, one new idea or suggestion about the problem as their ticket of admission to the meeting. Have the people write their ideas on index cards and collect them at the door. No one gets in without a ticket. Start the meeting by reading everyone’s contribution.”

PS: Tune in on Monday and we’ll talk about the most challenging kind of meetings: skip level meetings.

3 Reasons Your Meeting is a Waste of Time

“Okay, we need everyone’s full attention so here are the meeting rules. No texting. No sidebars. Full participation.”

If you have to start your meeting with ultimatums, something is wrong. Sure you could scold the team into paying attention. Better yet, figure out why they don’t want to.

3 Reasons Your Meeting is a Waste of Time

Wrong Purpose

One of my favorite posts submitted for the Frontline Festival was Jesse Lynn Stoner’s “No More Boring Meetings” The worst meetings are a one-way dump of information. These are meetings of “convenience,” for the leader. The leader asks for “updates” from each team member.

If you do not have a clear purpose for having a meeting, don’t have it. “We always have staff calls on Tuesdays,” does not count as a purpose. Articulate the purpose of the gathering at the outset (or even on the agenda). “By the end of the hour we will have made 4 decisions.”

Wrong People

If you need the decision maker– get her. Nothing frustrates a team more than debating and issue, reaching consensus, and then finding that they were missing key information or that a key stakeholder was not invited. Consider who must be included up front for which portions. Don’t waste time by having people sit through irrelevant topics until their subject comes up. You will gain great respect by honoring other people’s time.

Wrong Process

Determine the appropriate process up front. Unstructured meetings squander time. Create dialogue around topics that matter. Everyone does not need to speak on every topic. But if someone is tuning out, tune in and figure out why. Watch nonverbals. Invite factions to share their side bars with the group. If the meeting gets swonky, take a time out and check in with a few opinion leaders during the break.

You want people leaving your meeting saying, “now that was a great meeting.” “we accomplished so much.”

Great meetings should save time, not waste time.

The Scary Secret to Great Meetings

The first time it happened, I was devastated.

After all the hard work on building relationships.

All that investment in the team.

All that transparency.

All that work to create a level-less organization.

Why had my direct report team started holding “secret” meetings without me?

Why was that necessary?

What was I doing wrong?

Was this an indication that I had become the proverbial “boss” an image I had tried so hard to avoid?

It’s About Us

I shared my concerns with a member of the team.

Karin, this is not about you. This is about us. We need this. Relax.

I still don’t know exactly what happened in those “secret” meetings. Perhaps they talked about the work. Perhaps they settled some of their own conflict. Perhaps they complained about me. I am not sure it matters.

What I do know is those meetings transformed our organization.

Each leader began stepping up in new ways. They helped one another solve problems. They worked on each other’s projects. They mentored one another’s employees. They brought well-vetted options and solutions to our staff meetings.

My questions became more strategic. So did their answers.

Results kept climbing.

When you strive to be a servant leader, it can be tough to feel your team doesn’t need “serving.” You want to roll up your sleeves and support them. Sometimes the best support you can offer is to step away and give them the space to create, argue, and perform.

Now I welcome and encourage secret meetings.

Could your team use a “secret meeting?”

Are Your Meetings Effective? Measure Your Meeting "Net Promoter Score"

Do you run effective meetings?

When was the last time someone left one of your meetings and told everyone, “that was a GREAT meeting. You’ve really got to come next time.”

Do you have a good sense of what they are saying?

Would they come if they had a choice?

Many companies use the idea of the Net Promoter Score asking the “Ultimate Question” to measure their customer service. This question asks, “on a scale of 1-10 how likely would you be to recommend us to your friend or colleague?” The system’s not perfect, but there is beauty in its simplicity. The best information comes from taking a deeper look at what the “promoters (those who would recommend) say vs. the “detractors (those who would not).”

Try ending your meetings with a simple question

Would you recommend this meeting to a friend?

or variations on the theme…

Was this meeting a good use of your time?

Will you be more effective as a result of this meeting?

Do You Have Meeting Promoters or Detractors?

Consider the last meeting you facilitated. Would you have more promoters or detractors? What would each of these groups say on their way out the door.

Themes from meeting promoters

“The meeting had a clear purpose and agenda”

“All the right people were there”

“Everyone contributed”

“We stayed right on topic”

“We made lots of decisions”

“I know just what to do next”

Themes from Meeting Detractors

“It was more of a one-way information dump”

“I am not really sure what that meeting was about”

“The right people weren’t there”

“We didn’t stay on topic”

“We didn’t make any decisions”

“We were just there to update our boss”

How do you know your meetings are effective? When is the last time you asked?

PS: You may find this article from Patrick at Hello Focus intriguing. Some interesting stuff about meetings here!

Are Your Meetings Effective? Measure Your Meeting “Net Promoter Score”

Do you run effective meetings?

When was the last time someone left one of your meetings and told everyone, “that was a GREAT meeting. You’ve really got to come next time.”

Do you have a good sense of what they are saying?

Would they come if they had a choice?

Many companies use the idea of the Net Promoter Score asking the “Ultimate Question” to measure their customer service. This question asks, “on a scale of 1-10 how likely would you be to recommend us to your friend or colleague?” The system’s not perfect, but there is beauty in its simplicity. The best information comes from taking a deeper look at what the “promoters (those who would recommend) say vs. the “detractors (those who would not).”

Try ending your meetings with a simple question

Would you recommend this meeting to a friend?

or variations on the theme…

Was this meeting a good use of your time?

Will you be more effective as a result of this meeting?

Do You Have Meeting Promoters or Detractors?

Consider the last meeting you facilitated. Would you have more promoters or detractors? What would each of these groups say on their way out the door.

Themes from meeting promoters

“The meeting had a clear purpose and agenda”

“All the right people were there”

“Everyone contributed”

“We stayed right on topic”

“We made lots of decisions”

“I know just what to do next”

Themes from Meeting Detractors

“It was more of a one-way information dump”

“I am not really sure what that meeting was about”

“The right people weren’t there”

“We didn’t stay on topic”

“We didn’t make any decisions”

“We were just there to update our boss”

How do you know your meetings are effective? When is the last time you asked?

PS: You may find this article from Patrick at Hello Focus intriguing. Some interesting stuff about meetings here!