Get more value out of the same meetings

Three years ago my management team found themselves once again gridlocked in miscommunication. I was presented with a list of problems and asked to resolve the conflict.

Individuals smarter than myself were relying on me to come up with or approve solutions simply because of my position. I sent the GM and three managers to lunch with one task: solve all four problems and talk about any related issues before coming back to work, while my partner and I held down the fort. That day I learned meetings can be the catalyst for huge changes within an organization if carried out in the right environment and executed correctly, even if (or especially when) I am not present.

For the remainder of my time at that company, almost every week the managers got together with a list they’d each made of issues the company needed to correct, and addressed them without ownership present. This allowed them to be candid and empowered them to take change into their own hands.

The results of these meetings included increased honesty and communication between managers, the rearrangement of production facilities and workflow, a better product quality check process, and an increased customer satisfaction rate.

Our team rapidly became not better at putting out fires, but preventing them from starting in the first place.

Structure your meetings so they’re a profitable use of everyone’s time.

  1. Decide what topics should be covered and for how long each will be addressed, then stick to that amount of time. If your meeting is supposed to be an hour, formally end it at 40 minutes every time. Stop the excuses. This does several things: it shows that you value everyone’s time, gives you room to re-visit important topics, and protects the needed colloquial conversations needed for your team to bond with each other and you.
  2. For each topic, quickly find what everyone agrees on and branch out from there whenever possible. Accept criticism with verbalized appreciation, then move into clarifying their statements. This creates a safe environment for pushback, which is essential to filtering good ideas from all the rest.
  3. Break what everyone has agreed upon into actionable points and divvy up implementation responsibilities by offering them up for volunteers to pick. Whatever is leftover can be assigned. This shows your team respect.
  4. Put every actionable item on a calendar, and assign each a follow up date that is reasonable to the whole team. If people push back on a date, be willing to compromise when possible. The occasional loss of some profit can be considered an investment in your team.
  5. Always end your meeting on a positive note. It’s imperative your team be willing to participate if future meetings are going to be successful. Even if there was a significant amount of dissent throughout, hit pause and end by making everyone laugh or at least smile. People don’t always remember what was said, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.

“In 1994, while coming out of a near bankruptcy experience and working on Toy Story, four of the original Pixar directors had lunch at a diner and brainstormed ideas about movies they wanted make. Building on each other’s concepts, from this one informal meeting came A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo, and WALL-E.
Hollywood outsiders changed the motion picture industry in an afternoon of throwing ideas together.

A Bug’s Life: $363 million

Monster’s Inc: $562 million

Finding Nemo: $963 million

WALL-E: $521 million

Total: $2.4 billion

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