Ask most executives what they think of their regular management meetings, and they will often tell you that they regard these meetings as a waste of time. Considering the cost of leadership team meetings, we should demand that the organization realize significantly more value. Business intelligence software vendors, with their decision support tools and desktop dashboards, are now tempting executives to do away with such meetings altogether. After all, if you have the data and information at your fingertips, why bother convening costly meetings at all? While this is a fair question to ask, it's hardly realistic to imagine people working together without ever conducting meetings. Suffice to say that the management meeting is here to stay. The question is: how can it be improved?
We should start by understanding what is actually happening - or not happening - in management meetings that leads to the level of discontent associated with them. A study revealed that 85 percent of management teams spend less than one hour per month discussing strategy.1 In short, most management meetings are failing to maximize the value of executives' time because they focus on operational matters and not on strategic issues that, by definition, require cross-functional collaboration.
Research conducted by Bruce Reinig of San Diego State University has shown that meeting satisfaction is affected by both the meeting outcome as well as the process by which that outcome was reached.2 Furthermore, people are likely to feel more satisfied with the outcome or process if they believe it has increased the likelihood of attaining their goals. This suggests that the blueprint for a successful meeting is one that features team-based problem solving and the celebration of mutual goal attainment.
In most cases, it makes sense to redesign these meetings from the ground up, starting with the overall purpose, which is to make decisions. All that data and information isn't worth the paper it's written on if the group doesn't use it to make decisions. But, when it comes to strategy - which is about working as a team to lead change - in most cases, we can't simply go to the data to make decisions. Data must be converted into information, which through analysis and discussion becomes the knowledge upon which decisions can be made.
How do teams build a bias toward problem solving and decision-making into their meeting process? Based on work with teams in hundreds of organizations, I offer the following guidelines.
1. Build a standing agenda around shared business objectives. Developing a strategy map, with objectives organized by perspectives and themes, supported by a balanced scorecard with measure data and initiative information is one proven approach to creating such an agenda.
2. Establish accountability. Assign performance advocates to each business objective. While the entire team should share accountability for actual results, ownership of business objectives should be assigned to individuals and dispersed equally among all team members, which has the positive effect of encouraging participation at each meeting.
3. Prepare for the meeting. Ensure that everyone comes to the meeting prepared, which means: 1) he or she has prepared the data, information, analysis and recommendations associated with his/her objectives; 2) each person has had an opportunity to review the materials in advance of the meeting; and 3) the most important issues are prioritized for discussion and decision.
4. Focus on business issues. These issues should be identified before the meeting based on a review of the measure data and initiative information behind each objective. For each issue, the advocate presents evidence indicating the degree of the problem, leads a discussion about what is being - or can be - done about it and finally uses the help of the team to make a decision. This logical discussion flow soon becomes the rhythm of every meeting. To illustrate how this process works, see Figure 1.
Figure 1: The Issue-Focused, Decision-Oriented Meeting
5. Continually enhance your meeting culture. Conduct your meetings with an overarching goal of creating a culture of teamwork, transparency and openness. This requires building trust, motivating people and setting clear expectations. This last step is the hardest and most time-consuming part of the process, but the most important.
- David Norton and Jay Weiser. "The Strategy Review Process." Balanced Scorecard Report, November-December 2006.
- Bruce Reinig. "An Investigation of Meeting Satisfaction in GSS and FTF Meetings." Department of Information and Decision Systems, San Diego State University, 2002.
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