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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Healthy Debate, Effective Meetings

Have you ever been part of a meeting that started late, that did not have a clear agenda, and that went on to discuss relatively irrelevant topics and avoiding the real issues? Have you ever been present at a meeting that did not allow for honest sharing of information and opinions, that droned on forever, where people were domineering the discussion, and that never seemed to get to the point? If your answer is no, I’d love to talk to you and your team.

Very likely your answer is a full-blown yes with a deep, frustrated groan.
Many different aspects make meetings effective, but it boils down to candid, healthy debate on topics that matter and that everyone prepared for and participates in. You have to plan, prepare, and effectively execute your meeting or you will lose time, energy, commitment, and revenue. It’s as simple as that. So if you don’t want this to happen, you want to avoid the following pitfalls:

-       Inviting people to the meeting who are not necessary for reaching the objective of the meeting. The next one, knowing what you want to accomplish, helps you determine who needs to be present.
-       Going into a meeting without considering what the desired outcome should be. Do you need to inform, discuss, generate, plan, decide? What is it that you want to accomplish? Everything that happens in your meeting should support your objective.
-       Starting late and allowing latecomers to disrupt and receive recaps, thereby allowing repetition and needlessly long discussions. Allowing reading time during the meeting is another mistake that is often made. Reading is part of preparation and should happen ahead of the meeting. Sounds too good to be true, right? But if you respectfully but promptly and consistently redirect people who want to read papers during the meeting, your meetings will be known for the ones you better prepare for.
-       Going into a meeting without a specific time management plan. To integrate some of the most common pitfalls: Without an objective, with the wrong or too many people, without a specific agenda, without a good clue on how long each item will take, and without the skills and courage to handle tensions constructively and to curb needless discussions, ego-tripping, and domineering behaviors you will be lost, for sure. You will be lost in time, and you will be lost in results.

In addition you want to note items that need further discussion and at the end of each agenda item, you want to quickly summarize what was said and get agreement on your summary. Don’t forget to agree on what needs follow-up by whom and by what date. At the end of the meeting, take time to debrief and evaluate the meeting's effectiveness based on how well you met the objective and what you want do differently and better during the next meeting.

My recap: An effective meeting needs structure, preparation, order, active participation, and candid and guided conversation.

I’ll leave you with some questions:

a.    Are your meetings compelling? Are important issues being discussed during meetings?
b.    Are your meetings focused? Do you know the objectives of the meeting and how to best reach them?
c.    Are your discussions time effective and do they result in conclusions and actions?
d.    Do you engage in unguarded and relevant debate? Do you honestly share thoughts and opinions, do you honestly and respectfully confront each other?
e.    Do you ever get out of line? Do you apologize if you get out of line?
f.     Do you really understand each other?
g.    Do you avoid gossiping about each other?
h.    Are you clear about possible next steps when leaving your meetings?

Just remember, effective meetings leave you energized and feeling that you've really accomplished something, together. Otherwise you might as well have done it all by yourself and saved others a lot of time and energy.

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