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How to Run Effective Management Meetings

By Mark Shaw, Senior Vice President Human Resources, Kateeva

Effective Management Meetings
Gettin' good players is easy. Gettin' 'em to play together is the hard part. Casey Stengel

How effective are the meetings at work?  When meetings are not effective, how empowered do you feel to do something about it? 

When I ask these questions in my workshops, seminars, or during informal conversations at work, the answers are generally more negative than positive.  In response to the question about being empowered to make changes, most people hesitate to recommend changes when they are not the leader of the group.  Is that your experience too?  The truth is that the better we leverage team capabilities the more successful we will be.  The collective intelligence of a group consistently outperforms individual employees who are on their own.  On the other hand, our experience also informs us that too many meetings are not as effective as they could be. 

Over the years, my insights about effective teams come from a foundation articulated in the book, Change-ABLE Organization: Key Management Practices for Speed and Flexibility, by William Daniels and John Mathers.   Twenty years ago, I worked with a general manager who used these management practices to help him transform a small business group of engineers struggling to develop the second revision of a product generating $25M a year to a “cash-cow” division that within five years generated more than $700M in revenue a year.  From that experience, I have grounded my teachings and coaching on these management practices. In the next series of essays on The Managers Corner, I explore key skills and capabilities you as managers of people can use to make your management meetings more productive and effective.

Management Practice:  Use meetings to make decisions. 

Using this management practice means that you should only call for (or attend) management meetings when you are clear about the decision you will make.  Often I hear managers argue it is important to share information at meetings; that decision-making is not the only reason to meet.  The argument goes something like this: information in meetings makes sure everyone is on the “same page,” or “helps people feel that they are a part of a larger team,” or “makes sure that they have information needed to help them on their own projects.”   Managers can and should reframe some of these “FYI” meetings as decisions.  I will discuss that later.  However, the key point here is that meetings structured to share information,” according to Daniels and Mathers “. . . are a waste of time.” (P. 168).  Here a few of reasons why. 

First, information sharing in meetings is inefficient.  As soon as we can determine the information we are hearing is not a threat or requires a response we inevitably turn our attention to higher priority items.  How many times have you observed in meetings meant to share information that participants check or respond to emails (at best), or “web surf” (at worst)?  Sometimes I have seen managers establish group rules that require participants to close their laptops to keep their attention on the group.  While I understand the reason for these meeting rules, the distractions of laptops and cells phones may indicate that employees do not see how their participation is needed or wanted for the meeting to proceed.   The closing of laptops does not address the root-cause that leads to passive-aggressive distractions in the first place.

Another reason why decision-less management meetings are inefficient is that they legitimize inaction.  The more managers and employees engage in meetings that require passive or no engagement the more those same employees come to believe that the organization tolerates inefficient use of time.  Furthermore, we may inadvertently exacerbate the apparent organizational tolerance for wasting time when multiple levels of leadership are required to attend FYI meetings.

In fast-growth, high-change, successful companies, leaders are clear about how every management meeting drives decisions needed to move the business forward.   As a result, they determine what decisions are needed before they call for or attend a meeting.  Based on the decisions needed, effective leaders determine who needs to attend.  During the meetings, these leaders are continually assessing whether the meeting discussion remains in service of making a decision.  With effective teams, team members, not just the leader, quickly redirect the meeting when and if the discussions lead away from the decisions needed.   When meetings are planned for and managed to achieve decisions, participants learn to see the meeting time as a “precious” opportunity to get the right work done with the right people in the room.

Types of Decisions Made in Effective Management Meetings

What decisions do effective leaders make in management meetings? Williams and Mathers outline four:  Pass downs, Work Reviews, Recommendations, and News.  If you have an agenda item that cannot fit into one of these categories, then you should consider eliminating that item from the meeting.  Let me explain each. 

Pass Downs:  

Use time in the meeting to review decisions made at a higher level in the organization.  Do not confuse the pass down with decision-less information meetings.  The goal for passing down decisions is for the leader to make sure that the team understands the implications for the decisions made from leaders above. For example, if the VP made a decision in his staff meeting to shift ME resources from Project A to Project B, then the leader of the ME group would be responsible for passing down that decision to his or her group.  The pass down would not only inform his/her group about the decision, but ensure his/her group understands the implications of that decision on their work and commits to the changes in performance expectations.

Work Reviews: 

Use the time in meetings to review and approve assessments of work that is on-track to plan, changes to work plans off track, and reallocation of resources need to get plans back on track.  Work reviews are the foundation of the typical management meeting.  When work reviews run effectively, less time is spent informing and more time is spent recommending and deciding course-corrections for projects that are off-track.  Well run work review meetings are evident by crisp presentations, active participation, focused discussion, group ownership for a productive meeting, and commitments by all to close on decisions needed to move the group forward.   In fast paced, agile organizations, the work review may typically drive the majority of time.  Using this time effectively is critical.  The discipline required to design and manage an effective work review will be the topic of future essays. 

Recommendations:

Use the time in meetings to review and approve recommendations from task force teams, leaders from other groups, staff members on the team.  The team can use the meeting as a forum for members to present recommendations that are outside of the scope of a work review.

News: 

Use the time in meetings to share news that affects at least two members of the team.  This is similar to the pass down.  The difference is that a team member shares this news with at least two other team members (if it is for one other team member, then he/she takes that off line).  This is a brief portion of the meeting with a similar outcome as pass down.   Ensuring others understand the decision and its implications to the performance of group goals.

Effective Management Meetings are for Making Decisions

The key point here is that decisions are the reasons for having management meetings. The clearer you can be about the decisions required in a meeting, the more likely you will have engaging, productive, and effective management meetings.  Most of decisions made in meetings probably fall into the category called work reviews.  Effective work reviews is the heartbeat of a successful company.  In future essays, I will discuss some of the management practices needed to run an effective work review meeting. 

*Change-ABLE Organization: Key Management Practices for Speed and Flexibility, William R. Daniels, John G. Mathers, American Consulting Training Publications, 1997.


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