I recently ran a 'Getting A Grip On Effective Meetings'; session for a very large New Zealand consulting firm. It was interesting to observe the list of issues the participants wanted help with. Do any of these sound familiar to you?
1. How to maximize the value of a meeting
2. How to get only the right people at an event
3. Better controlled internal meetings
4. Tools to manage outside attendees
5. How to shut down the talkers
6. How to manage latecomers
7. Getting people's buy-in on action points
8. Keeping participants engaged
9. Getting action points out fast
Obviously we can't replicate here everything we covered over the three hours of the course, but if Points 1 & 2 resonate you might find the following story useful.
Back in 1999 the HR Manager of the Sydney office of a very large international accounting firm requested help for Peter*, a senior partner.
At the first meeting I discovered that he was overwhelmed with staff meetings, team meetings, training and coaching meetings of his people, partner meetings, client meetings, professional development meetings, other peoples' departmental meetings when they wanted input from other sections of the firm, 'nice to have you along' meetings, and any other 'let's have a meeting for the sake of a meeting' kind of gathering that could be dreamed up. (And in a firm of thousands, that's easy!)
There were other factors as well, but this issue of meetings was having a serious impact on Peter's departmental productivity. His team couldn't access him enough, he wasn't there to drive the direction of the unit and he constantly worked ridiculous hours to try and keep up with the real work. This impacted on his family, his health and his wellbeing. Bottom line - he'd become a bottle-neck for his team - which had been interpreted as a delegation problem.
We came up with the following questions which he began to use as a filter.
Peter's Time-Saving Questions:
• What is the purpose of the meeting?
• Is it related to my overall goals?
• What do you expect from me?
• How long will it last?
• For which part of the agenda will you need my input?
• I may need to leave after my contribution. What time will you be dealing with the topics related to me?
• Do I really need to be there?
• If you need input from our department, can someone else attend instead of me?
• Are decisions likely to be made that only I can make, or can I delegate or sidestep?
Using these questions, Peter was immediately able to reduce his attendance. He even turned down meetings with other partners that he formerly would have automatically accepted. The result - less stress, more productivity and profitability, and happier staff.
Within two months of him using the questions as a filter, he and his team of 20 had improved their non-billable hours by 5 per cent. (In other words, they were working more effectively and therefore able to charge more).
Since then, Peter has had some very significant promotions, supported by his previously frustrated partners.
(*Peter is not his real name. Identity changed for privacy.)