3 Powerful Tools For Crafting Highly Productive Meetings

MSME ARTICLE #2/2017 : APRIL 21st 2017

Leaders of today have many resources given to them with the key purpose of utilising these resources to produce breakthrough organisational outcomes. One resource that is shrinking from the leaders and their teams is the resource of time. Because time is so critically limited, leaders need to capitalise and optimise segments of time given to them. One segment of time that leaders regularly invest in is in conducting meetings.

Leaders need meetings with team members to serve a multitude of purposes. These include; coordinating individual efforts; seeking collaboration on joint projects; garnering support for ideas; selling ideas; solving problems collectively and making consensus-based decisions.

Despite having noble purposes, research by Professors Jennifer Lundquist and Joya Misra (2016), from the University of Massachusettes, has showed that leaders waste precious time by conducting poorly run meetings. These meetings fail to generate meaningful return on the investment of time and energy expended. These meetings could have been easily substituted by more efficient ways to “meet” their purposes, such as; via phone calls, conference calls, memos/letters, postal mail, e-mails and even teleconferencing. The question that arose among my coaching clients was: “What are some tools and techniques that leaders can leverage on to safeguard their use of time with their teams?”

I co-created 3 Tools to use for conducting Highly Productive Meetings, viz., BEFORE, DURING and AFTER.

Tool #1: BEFORE PHASE:Identifying the Purpose/Goal
Using a Gamification Activity, I gave two bags filled with about 90 jigsaw pieces to two teams of six who participated in this activity. The only instruction given to them was that they had five minutes. Two announcements were made during the session, offering support, however, both were totally ignored. At the end of five minutes, both teams were pleading for extra time to complete.

Upon deeper exploration by the coach, the team members realized and drew up their key learnings, as follows:-
Teams made ASSUMPTIONS of the Purpose/Goal when the work looked familiar
Teams, in future, need to do preliminary assessment/evaluation of what needs to be done (Goal), by whom, by when, why (Purpose) and how
Teams had spent time executing activities and processes that were not aligned with the desired expectation of the leader. In this case, during 5 mins, the teams had to count the number of pieces rather than make the puzzle.
Teams, in future, need to step back and see the BIG Picture and how this activity fits in with their big goal/vision
Teams, in future, need to be continuously CONNECTED in a two way communication, asking and receiving feedback, to ensure their processes are in alignment with what the leader/organization is seeking to achieve

Tool #2: DURING PHASE: Leverage on Strengths of Team Members
Using the brainstorming tool, the team sets ground rules on how they want to work towards having a productive meeting. Team members are allocated specific roles and tasks, according to their talent/strengths, viz., those who are good in accounts or analyzing or recording or negotiating, etc.
Using the post-its tool, the team collects ideas, both normal in-the-box suggestions and crazy out-of-the-box ideas. This process helps to break “group-think” and stimulates “being disruptive”. Action steps are decided upon and clarity is made for who, what, when and how the actions steps are to be implemented.

The team coach elicited the learnings from this activity. The participants shared:-
Dividing the roles based on strengths proved to be a much easier route to take. For example in the jigsaw activity – some looked for similar colors, some looked for familiar cartoon character pieces, some looked for the edge pieces and others speedily assembled the pieces
Writing down on post-its helps those who are quieter to contribute giving them a sense of belonging, purpose and higher level of engagement
Many out-of-the-box ideas merged with normal ideas became new powerful ones
Pushing for Action steps with accountability raised their level of clarity and ownership of the processes for the task or assignment to be completed

Tool #3: AFTER PHASE: Reflective Practice
Using the tool reflective practise, the team identified three areas, namely; OBSERVATIONS + LEARNINGS + DO BETTER. Again the Post-its were used and each member shared his thoughts on;
Observation- what he observed about his behaviour to his team
Learnings – what he learnt about the meeting and about himself
Do Better – what he can do better to improve his contribution

By working through this activity, the team coach enable them to pick up learnings such as:-
They gained insights as to who they were at the meeting and how they behaved during the meeting
They gained clarity over what they were willing to contribute
They realized that they can decide to stretch themselves at the next meeting, either by suggesting out-of-the-box ideas or making significant contributions

Conclusion
Using simple tools like BEFORE I DURING I AFTER for HIGHLY PRODUCTIVE MEETINGS, enabled my clients to embrace many core values of responsibility, ownership, accountability, engagement, purpose and belonging.

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