Problem Solving

Step Up and Create Your High Payoff Meetings

Linda Feinholz asked:

Copyright (c) 2008 Linda Feinholz

There are times in business when it gets complicated sorting out why a team gets stalled. I’ve had clients who were facing so many competing issues they couldn’t figure out where to start: their strategy, their capabilities, their products or services, and so on.

With those companies, we often have to feel our way through as I sort the issues and help them prioritize where to start the Change process.

And there are other times when there is a clear starting point.

I’m working with an organization that knows exactly the challenge they’re facing and the impact it’s having on their business.

They’ve been sitting for hours in management meetings with very little managing or problem solving taking place. Can you imagine what it was like for them to see my slide with a calculation about the cost being over $1,800,000 in lost productivity?

Their breakdowns are a result of inexperience with practices that make individuals and teams effective. While several of them have been entrepreneurs, they now need to work at problem solving with peers. Many of them are used to being responsible for getting things done during business turnarounds and are unfamiliar with delivering on both the competing priorities of ‘normal’ work and client emergencies.

Most of them are in their role as division heads for the first time in their careers. They’re grappling with the endless stream of challenges and paradoxical conflicts faced at that level in businesses. They know they’ve been less productive and much less effective than they ought to be as a team and as leaders of their employees.

A month ago I observed two days of management meetings – nearly twenty hours in which perhaps 4 hours of actual work got accomplished.

I pointed out to them that since the root of their breakdowns is not personality differences but “know how,” the work I’m doing with them is to give them new tools and techniques, sort of like new hand rails, shoes and stair treads, they’ll use every day.

They love the fact that what I’m teaching them is immediately valuable to them in their management meetings. AND it’s also immediately useful in other settings, including their work with their own direct reports.

Because their behavior is so easy to spot when they’re in their management meeting, that’s where we started this week. I spent 16 hours with them ‘first describing the techniques of running high payoff meetings, then doing some role playing, and then taking it straight into the rest of the meetings they had planned.

Here are 3 quick tips they learned to make your own meetings more effective and productive, immediately:

Tip #1 Have a purpose for the meeting before it begins

While these folks started their meeting with a schedule that showed a list of topics, they usually launched straight into discussions without any stated goal for any of the conversations.

Now they’re stating clearly at the beginning of each conversation whether the purpose is to clarify an issue that has come up, to identify potential solutions for it, evaluate efforts underway, or come to agreement about specific actions and accountabilities.

Stating the purpose at the beginning is helping with the next tip…

Tip #2 Have the right people at the meeting

Usually, five or six members of the management team sat through hours of discussions that had no relevance for their own work in the company. Everyone was at the table “just in case” it might be useful. So they were spectators rather than contributing to the work.

Now they’re planning each agenda item ahead of time, including inviting those who belong at the table and excluding people who have nothing to add.

Having the proper group to work on the matter means they can absolutely achieve the next tip…

Tip #3 Stick to the topic

When half the people in the room sat observing, they often tried to contribute ideas so the time didn’t appear to be wasted. Yet their ‘helpful’ comments derailed conversations into explaining details already known, or addressing tactical ideas when the discussion was strategic, and so on.

Now they’re holding their conversation among subject matter experts and people responsible and accountable for the results. Their conversations go deeper yet take one quarter as long as before. They’re stepping up to a new level as issues that had languished without progress for months are being worked on in the next 30 days.

The entire team is very clear about the high payoff return they’ll be getting using those new practices.

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