Do you ever feel you spend too much time in meetings? If you answer ‘yes’ you’re not alone – it’s one of the Top Five most common time issues people complain about.
I’m nearly finished on a six-month ‘Productivity Improvement’ consultancy contract with one of my clients in the FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) sector, helping them with a major change involving people on both sides of the Tasman. One of the big productivity leaks the New Zealand GM has observed, was the amount of time spent in meetings. So, at our first group training session, efficient meetings were one of the topics.
How to run an effective meeting requires one set of skills; knowing what and when to attend requires a different set of skills. In this article we’ll just focus on the latter issue.
‘Shall I go?’ questions:
Here are the questions I gave them to use as a filter when invited to meetings.
- 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?
The 14 people liked the questions and seemed to take on the concept of not just routinely accepting a meeting because they were invited. However, like most of us, one exposure to new concepts wasn’t enough. These good folk needed a reminder. (Over many years, I’ve noticed that a training programme is only the beginning of behaviour change. The follow-up coaching is what makes the real difference.) Sure enough, in the first of our individual phone coaching sessions a month later I discovered that the issue of long and tedious meetings was still going on.
With that second reminder, however, the second month’s coaching calls brought a wonderful crop of successes. Here are just two.
Kate is a senior product manager. Within a week of our first coaching call, with renewed focus on reducing meetings, she had the following result:
- Instead of driving into the city she asked two of her suppliers to come to her office. Saving: 3 hours of travel time.
- She was invited to a very important presentation, in her own building, for a major client. It was moderated by one of her colleagues. In the past Kate would have sat through the full event – over 5 hours. Instead she asked to be called when required for her contribution. That only took 45 minutes. Saving: 4 & 1/2 hours.
- With her better meeting management skills, she kept an internal meeting (that used to always go overtime) on track and to time. Saving: at least 1/2 an hour.
Total time saved that week: 8 hours. Add to that the other work she did achieve and you can see why Kate was excited about her output and progress the next time we talked! And put the dollar savings around that and it’s easy to see why her managers were just as ecstatic.
Karlea, another product manager, also has regular external supplier meetings. One of her frustrations was lack of clear outcomes and clear decisive next steps due to the poor meeting skills of others. So, for the next one her major focus was to take personal responsibility for making sure ‘next steps’ were in place before they all left the room. Her sharp intention resulted in far better results than previously; she was able to get immediately to work instead of needing further discussion.
Also she is now aware of not involving her colleagues unnecessarily. For a meeting she called, instead of five people sitting through a one and a half hour meeting (7 hours 30 minutes of company time), by inviting people only for the part relevant to themselves the total time invested became 2 hours 50 minutes, a saving to the company of 4 hours 40 minutes. That equated to a direct saving of a minimum of $1,000 in wages, even without factoring in things like cost of desk, phone, building, support staff and of course the opportunity cost of so many staff not getting on with other vital work.
These were the savings in just a couple of weeks. Both will continue to use these new skills. Imagine the long-term savings the company will achieve, let alone the personal satisfaction for Kate and Karlea as they achieve better results faster.
Smart companies and managers invest in their people even more in tough times and situations than in the good times. If the money is put into the right training, (and that includes coaching and follow-up) they’ll maintain great morale and improve effectiveness and profitability, no matter what the economic climate.
What are you doing to help your team improve their work habits? (And if you’d like to discuss how we can help, drop me a line.)