Plugs and Drains in Meetings

Image courtesy of Bongani on Stock.Xchng.

Image courtesy of Bongani on Stock.Xchng.

Okay, we’ve added some pressure in the way of time, and you have committed to making sure that the outcome is clear by the end of the time allotted.  So now you are ready to do something about the boredom or frustration people feel in meetings.

One of the main reasons that people feel bored or frustrated in meetings is that there isn’t any drama.  Not because it isn’t there, but because, well, people just aren’t bringing up their differences.  So, to counteract that, we bring out the drama llama.   We do!  We bring out the drama llama.

Look, one of the biggest drains on people at work and in meetings is not being relevant, and they aren’t relevant if they are simply there to nod their head.  If everyone is in full agreement all the time on every issue, then all but one person in that meeting are redundant.

Another drain on a person is not even getting their say.  People don’t need to have their way, but they need to have their say.  This helps to establish their relevance, and it also helps to ensure that you get the most out of your team because you benefit from having more perspectives to find potential obstacles and solutions.

Despite the benefits, people resist the idea of having debates, saying they don’t want to start a fight.  But most fights originate in the lack of communication, not the presence of it.  When people do show times when disputes have occurred because they said something I can usually show that it actually occurred because they didn’t follow through completely; they stopped communicating partway through.

Get the the most out of your team!  When you are in a meeting, wait for someone to present a position on the topic at hand, ask for a counterpoint, then wait.  That last part – the waiting – is the hardest, but it is worth it.

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A Promise of Better Meetings

One thing that leads people to cringe at the mere thought of meetings is that they don’t get anywhere.  They go into a meeting not sure why they are in it.  They are bored or frustrated while they are in it.  And they emerge drained and confused, not knowing what the outcome of the meeting was.  For that matter, they aren’t even sure there really was an outcome.  If that is you, you are in good company.  I know I’ve been there.

I’ve been in quite a few meetings where topics get tossed around…and around…and around.  Meeting after meeting there is no apparent end, and the same talking points are made time after time.  This does not get anyone anywhere.  In fact, it is a waste of time and energy that dilutes the power of the group, calling in to question the group’s integrity.

Let’s take care of that right now.  If there is a vote of the group needed, when you are a few minutes away from the end of the allotted time for that topic, discussion ends and you call for a vote.  If there is not a vote, as the time draws to an end, make it clear who is to do what and when.

If that seems easier said than done, you may be right, but that doesn’t really change anything.  As the leader, your responsibility is to keep things moving from where you are to where you want to be, and that is not accomplished by rehashing the same information time after time.  It’s quite okay to have the next action be more information gathering if there really is more information to be gathered that will assist in the next step.  Just announce who is to gather what information, by when.  But once a reasonable amount of information has been gathered with which to make a decision, your roll is to see that the decision is made and action is taken consistent with it.

 

 

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Best Practices for Meeting Agendas

Image Courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In leadership, the focus is on filling the gap between where you are and where you need or want to be.  So, as we said yesterday, one factor that brings that about is facing forward by conducting the Weekly Optimization meeting at the beginning of the week, rather than looking back in review at the end of the week.

Another factor is the content of the meeting.  But before we start on what to put on the agenda, let’s start with whether there is a pre-made agenda at the start of the meeting.  My position is that there should not be.

One thing that builds engagement among people in meetings is involving them, and there is no better way to do that than to involve them in determining the agenda for the meeting.  And, from a practical perspective, until people know exactly where they are and where they need to be, they cannot identify the key items for agendas.  That cannot be done until each person has checked in at the start of the meeting.  So, for best results, everyone does laser check-in to start the meeting.  Agendas may be set after that.

A fair question to ask in setting agendas is how long the meeting should be.  As short as possible while still being effective.  One trap we run into is that we can take as long as we have to accomplish something, so time constraints lend greater efficiency.  And setting time constraints prevents the meeting from being taken over while reducing repetition.  Time constraints also bring a sense of urgency that gains attention and encourages involvement.  With all that, strive to complete the meeting in 30 minutes, unless topics warrant more, in which case the rule is not to go over 1 hour.

Why 1 hour?  Part of the benefit of setting agendas is setting priorities.  Remember this is a meeting specifically to address things coming up each week.  Realistically, what can you accomplish in a week?  And if everything is important then nothing is important.

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Weekly Optimization Meetings

IMG_0983Last week we talked about the daily check-in, which is a great way to get focused on the things each is going to accomplish that day.  It gives us a close-up view, helping us close the gaps so fewer things fall through the cracks.  And it’s still important to meet weekly to go over what is coming up that week.  When we do that, we can address important things when we are at our best, not urgent things that take us off our plan.  In other words, we get to respond, not react.

One factor that comes into play in helping us respond when we are at our best versus reacting when there is urgency is the timing of the meeting.  A number of places I have worked have held weekly meetings, but they met on Friday mornings.  I think that’s a lost opportunity.

Use the weekly meeting as a way to motivate people.  The weekly meeting gives people a heads up as to where they are and where they want to go.  I do NOT want to have people looking behind them at what has already happened, which is what I observed in the organizations that have held meetings on Fridays.  And I don’t want people to get started on something on a Friday only to leave it for the weekend and have to start building the momentum again come Monday morning.

Think of it this way:  You stop at the mailbox on your way home, and there it is.  Completely throws you for a loop, this little envelope does.  Whether it’s a bill, a letter, or something else doesn’t matter.  If you have had the experience of having to wait through the weekend to be able to address something on Monday, you can see how having the meeting on a Monday could be of more value for your team.

The timing of the meeting isn’t the only factor that plays into getting the most value, though.  We’ll go into more factors this week, helping you make the most of your Weekly Optimization Meetings.

 

 

 

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Meetings: The Antidote for Micromanagement

IMG_1213Yesterday we discussed some of the benefits of a daily check-in meeting, and Beth left an interesting question in the comment section.  She writes, ” I do wonder…how you would deal with employees that saw this as micromanagement?”

Micromanagement is a fear-based style of what some refer to as, “control freak.”  You’ll recognize the micromanager as the one constantly hanging over others’ shoulders, but not in the way that we can appreciate in a bird.  They may sound like a bird, though, since they can squawk a lot.  Micromanagers can cause employee turnover and low productivity with high stress and burnout, so it is important to address this.

Writing from the perspective of someone who has, on occasion, slipped into micromanagement, I feel a greater sense of control when I am aware of what I and others on my team need to accomplish.  If I know they are aware of what needs to be done, I can stop looking over their shoulder and interrupting to make sure they are aware of it.  So these meetings are essentially an antidote for micromanagement.

When you introduce the idea of the meeting, make sure you preframe it that way.  Acknowledge the concern about needing to make sure things get done on time, and link that with the idea behind the meeting – to check in regarding what each person is working on.  Let them know that when things are covered in the meeting, you won’t need to be watching their every move, interrupting them, or constantly asking because it will already have been addressed.

Another thing that can cut down on interpreting the meeting as micromanagement is that the meetings are so short – absolutely no more than 10 minutes, and preferably less than 5.  (To make sure the meetings stay short, use an egg timer if the number of people attending is low enough.  You could finish the meeting within that time or you could, with few people, allow each the amount of time on the timer.) There really isn’t time to get into too much detail – just enough to get everyone on the same page as far as what everyone is working on that day and what is needed from others in order to achieve that.

Lastly, make sure the meeting is mutual.  Don’t be the only one asking for what you need and asking what others are up to.  Turn the tables, so that your support staff is getting updates on what you have going on, too, and they also ask for what they need from you.

Micromanagement can present as overcommunication, but it is really a lack of appropriate communication.  The daily check-in meetings can help, provided that it is introduced and carried out properly.

 

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Meaning through Meetings

When I was in law school, it helped to know that others were studying in preparation for the same test I was studying for – I wasn’t alone.  The same was true when I was studying for the bar; even though I was working through a homestudy program as I was out-of-state, it still helped to know that I wasn’t the only one going through it.  I guess you could say that means there is comfort in sharing misery, but I prefer to think of it as being the power of community.

People are meaning making machines, and will work more enthusiastically when they know exactly how they fit in, what they are working toward.  You may think they already know that, but probably not to the extent that they could.  Meetings are one of the tools that can make your job a lot easier by putting things into context.

IMG_0740Make it a point to check in with your staff at the start of each day, just for a few minutes.  Everyone can be reminded of important dates for clients, updates can be given when you are in a position to hear them, each person can share what is needed from the other person, and so on.  If you do this, interruptions will go down and your ability to catch errors and deadlines will increase.  This also means that stress will be reduced and productivity increased.

The nature of your work means that sometimes you will have to handle things that are urgent, but if everyone on your team is able to share daily, you will do more of what is important when you are at your best, rather than having to react to something that is urgent, forcing you to drop everything else. The quality of your work will improve, which may bring in more business through referrals; and since you won’t have to work late as often in response to those matters that became urgent, you’ll have more leisure time, more chances to do what you want to recharge your batteries.

 

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Meetings

IMG_1056Well, it’s official.  It’s now December.  You have less than one month before Christmas.  Are you ready?  Are you one who knows exactly how much time you will need in order to be ready precisely on time?  While most people hate the stress of the holidays, most of us need some sort of motivation to get going and keep going, and having that date is one way to do it.

It can be hard to be motivated on cue.  But if I’m being held accountable through a challenge or a deadline, I can and will do whatever it takes to get that job done.  It may not be easy, and it may require me to use every ounce of energy and focus I have, but it will get done.  Period.

That’s one of the benefits of meetings.  Yeah, I know.  You’ve probably been in your share of bad meetings, and so have I.  I’ve even run a few of them.  But the fact of the matter is that they do still have their uses.

One use, as already mentioned, is accountability.  Another is to get people on the same page, gather ideas, identify potential problems, solve problems, negotiate, mediate conflict, and more.

Now that doesn’t mean you have to be face-to-face for all of them.  You can use Skype or other video conferencing systems, call in, or whatever.  It can even be as easy as having an accountability partner that you check in with to tell them what you are going to do and how long you will do it for, then check back in at the end.  Whatever style(s) of meeting you use, and however you choose to attend, having some type of interaction with someone can boost your performance.

In order to boost your performance, though, there are some things to keep in mind that can reduce the pain associated with meetings.  And that is what we will take a look at this week.

 

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Knee-Jerk Regrets…I Mean Reactions.

There is a lot involved in high-stakes conversations, and it can seem overwhelming.  People get upset because they don’t have time, feeling the need to handle it, “RIGHT NOW!”  Here are some things to consider:

Will you have time to clean-up later?  You know, time to search for a replacement for those people if they quit?  Time to train the new people?  Time to deal with lost productivity from gossip?

Will you have the money and resources to get new clients and employees to replace the ones that are lost?

Would it be better to keep what you have and take responsibility for making it better?

Cutting corners doesn’t work when it comes to relationships, whether personal or professional.  At some point, with some person, we need to slow down enough to take all the necessary steps.  It may not be easy, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be difficult going forward either.  You can start to have conversations at earlier stages, before things come to a head.

Start working toward a more upstream approach to these conversations.  Chances are that if something is bothering you this much, there have been some incidents that have been pushing your button that got you to this point.  Start identifying those as they occur, and deal with them then.

When we deal with things during the earlier stages, sometimes we have more options.  Humor, for example, can be a great way to get a message across lightly, yet effectively.  While it remains a possibility down the road, it is generally not the first thing we reach for when the pot is boiling over.  We also remain more willing to ask questions or to walk away long enough to cool down.

Whatever method you choose, whatever your timing is, and whatever role (recipient or provider) remember that you are a leader. By definition and name, that means you are not obligated to follow other people or those knee-jerk regrets…um, I mean reactions.

 

 

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“Watch Your Frame!” – Framing Feedback

Photo Courtesy of pixelstar on Stock.Xchng

Photo Courtesy of pixelstar on Stock.Xchng

It’s time to frame your response, before you go in front of others.  If you’ve been following our posts this week and have been following along, you probably already have some raw data to work on for the first part.

Why should they participate in the conversation?  Why should they go along with your idea or something better?  We need to come up with a positive reason that will gain their buy-in.  And while you may initially come up with some ideas for this unilaterally before you enter into the conversation, it is very important for them to have a say in that.  If they don’t have a say, they haven’t bought it; instead you are forcing something down their throat, and shouldn’t wonder why they choke or bite.

The reason also encompasses the outcome you need from the conversation, so you will have one bigger picture purpose that encompasses both perspectives.  This will give you some common language, though you will want to verify some of the terms by asking, “What does _______ mean to you, just so we know we are on the same page?” This common language makes it possible to have a conversation about the standard that will yield everlasting results.

They will remember it if it is in terms they use, and as a result they will be more likely to follow through with it.  This gives more consistency and fewer compliance issues.  And as matters come up, they will become partners by not only bringing it to the attention of people who need to know, but also offering solutions as well.  In short, they take ownership of it.

In order to gain all of that, you will probably find that the language describing the reason is pretty abstract, more subjective.  This will form the frame around the details that you will be painting.  It’ll put it all in context.

Other parts of context you will want to consider for best results are 1.) medium (which you have already done or can read about in yesterday’s post) 2.) isolating, so that only the people who need to be involved are involved 3.) Nonverbal communication, including use of silence, and the size, number, rate, intensity, and type of gestures, volume, and more.

If it sounds like there is a lot that goes into setting the stage for these conversations, then you heard it right.  Because in the end, whether your feedback is heard and acted upon will have less to do with what you say than how you say it.  All this is also true for other conversations, too; it’s just that high stakes conversations warrant more deliberate consideration of all the nooks and crannies of communication.  Why leave it to chance?

There will be plenty of things to improvise on during the conversation, so why not choreograph what you can ahead of time?  Like a dancer must watch their frame for best performance, so must anyone who needs or wants the best performance for communication.

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Getting Better Results When Giving Feedback

Have you decided to take the next step of giving feedback in pursuit of a standard?  Is it time to say something in a way that others can hear it?  Keywords = “way that others can hear it.”  Then it’s time to decide which medium to use.

Is it better to send an email, pick up the phone, or say it face-to-face?  There are advantages and disadvantages to each.  With an email, you can work and rework it until the wording is right.  That’s not true for phone or meetings.  And while it offers that benefit, sometimes the tone can be misinterpreted.  A lot of people like the fact that there is a record, but what you say can be used against you.  So, before you press that fateful <send> button, go through with fine strategic editing skills to avoid the potential for it to be dissected and taken out of context.

With face-to-face or phone you have more feedback that you gain in terms of how it is being received, and the other person gains more non-verbal communication from you as well.  That can be both good and bad.  So, with pros and cons for each of the options, which do you use?

How about neither?  Seriously.  You have the option of not handling everything all at once and all in the same medium.  And that is an option I actively encourage you to use.  Some topics can be more easily and appropriately addressed in one medium over another.  You don’t have to handle it all on email or in person, or even at the same time.

Take some of the lighter things and address them up front to create a little extra space and time until the next opportunity presents itself to handle the bigger things.  Or, if the situation is both urgent and important, focus on a bigger thing up front, leaving the small details for another time.  This affords many benefits, not the least of which is reducing overwhelm and the potential for missing some of the details.

As layers peel off and you get more space and time in between, you may find that some issues naturally take care of themselves or can be handled more conversationally and less informally.  You may also find that when you start to address one thing, the reason for another appears, and when you handle that, other things are resolved.

So while the choice of medium or media is an important one in giving critical feedback, having flexibility in all aspects, from choice of medium to content, can offer even better results than you initially hoped for.

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