I recently spoke to one my friends about the inevitable business companion – the meeting. He was complaining about how much time he was wasting every day running from one meeting to the next, and how some of his colleagues were using meetings as a platform for gossiping and moaning. Sounds dreadful, but it doesn’t need to be.
During my years with ?What If! Innovation, I had a rare opportunity to work with some of the most driven, sharp-minded and successful individuals. Our People team (or HR department, if you wish) consisted of Lou Burrows (Global People Director), Marian Connolly (UK People Director), Sally-Ann Stucke (People Manager) and Zoe Gleeson (Team Coordinator/PA). We were super hands on team supporting an extremely hectic innovation hothouse. Our processes were regularly reviewed and updated making sure our offering was always suitable.
The question is: how did we keep the lid on it all? Here’s how we did it:
Daily Dialogue – we were lucky to be sitting together so that the conversation was constantly and naturally flowing, allowing us to stay connected and equally well informed. We had our ad-hoc huddles whenever needed. We also used emails as a mean for keeping each other ‘on the same page’ as much as possible.
Weekly Breakfast – we got together every Monday morning for two hours to go over our People Barometer and share information about undergoing projects. The first 5/10 minutes were spent on the post-weekend reconnecting and chitchatting, and then everyone had about 5/10 minutes to talk about their sections on the Barometer. Next, we chose couple of topics for further discussion and exploration. Zoe was capturing everything for us, taking notes and updating the document regularly.
Monthly Huddle – was the time when we looked closer at the company operation from a more strategic – helicopter view, looking ahead and aligning our activities to support the business. We also worked along a People Planner (incl. on-boarding programmes, annual reviews, away days/social events etc.), which hugely helped us with prioritizing and accommodating for unplanned activities.
Biannual Team Away Day – happened in places outside of the office and with a strict ‘no-phone / no-email’ policy. This was the time for us to take a good look at how we were operating, collaborating with each other and the company, our processes, our expertise and everything in between. ‘What could we be doing differently?’ ‘How else could we support our people to enable them to be the best versions of themselves?’ ‘What would the working environment be like in ten years time and what could we be doing about accommodating the change now?’ These were some of the questions we were asking of each other. I remember one time we invited an illustrator to spend a day with us and sketch what he was seeing and hearing. He came up with a brilliant visual, which subsequently helped us to connect some of the previously overlooked dots.
That was our team, but it is important to add that the rest of the company had equally robust system for managing communication within a team, between teams or between functions. The company’s underwriting rule about meetings was to never be late for a meeting, and to keep it for as long (or as short) as needed. It worked pretty well for us, probably down to a rigorous and ruthless discipline.
Funny thing has happened this week. I met with the same friend again and this time he handed me over a Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni, a founder of The Table Group and an acclaimed author. The book tells a story of Casey McDaniel, a Yip’s fictional CEO and Will Petersen, his PA who helped him to turn his boringly dreadful meetings into a fully business supporting tool. It is a quick but pleasurable read. I was smiling all the way long as some of the suggestions were closely overlapping with my previously described practices. So here it is, The Four Meetings by Patrick Lencioni:
- Format/Purpose – share daily schedules and activities
- Keys to Success – don’t sit down, keep it administrative, don’t cancel even when some people cannot be there
- Time Required – 5 minutes
- Format/Purpose – review weekly activities and metrics, and resolve tactical obstacles and issues, progress review, real-time agenda
- Keys to Success – don’t set agenda until after initial reporting, postpone strategic discussions
- Time Required – 45/90 minutes
Monthly Strategic (or/and Ad Hoc Strategic):
- Format/Purpose – discuss/analyze/brainstorm/decide upon critical issues affecting long-term success
- Keys to Success – limit to one or two topics, prepare and do research, engage in good conflict
- Time Required – 2/4 hours
Quarterly Offside Review:
- Format/Purpose – review strategy, industry trends, competitive landscape, key personal, team development
- Keys to Success – get out of office, focus on work, limit social activities, don’t over-structure or overburden the schedule
- Time Required – 1/2 day
Patrick also talks about the two important ingredients needed for a good meeting: drama and structure. Drama or conflict are necessary for us to be fully engaged, truly explore the problems and help the business to move forward. This is something that is best facilitated by leaders who are looking for legitimate reasons to provoke and uncover relevant and constructive conflict, which subsequently leads to passionate discussions and better decisions. Structure is about having a range of different meetings going on within an organisation, all with variety of purposes, formats and timings (as described above).
Death by Meeting or Resurrected by Meeting? You choose!