Posts tagged "schedule"

Time and Focus

Time Bound Meetings

If there are two components which should be tracked meticulously in every meeting “Time & Focus” top the list. When we lose track of these two components is when meetings fall apart and after endless hours of debating and discussing an issue no measurable progress is made towards the goal. To keep track of these components special attention needs to be paid to them to ensure that you have effective meetings.

Keeping Time: Time encapsulates both, being on time to your meetings and running them in such a manner that they start and end according to the time stated in the pre-meeting agenda. A few pointers on enforcing time during a meeting are;

  1. If you are chairing the meeting make sure that you reach the meeting on time. It is your responsibility to set an example about punctuality. By the same token if you are supposed to sit in on a meeting also make sure that you arrive on time. Even if your company has a culture of being late for meetings you need to start with yourself. Punctuality is essential and a defining aspect of effective organizations. If you have a habit of being late for meetings I highly suggest that you make a concentrated effort to rectify this.
  2. Assign someone to keep track of time. Reminders can be provided at checkpoints, reminding the participants how much time is left to keep everyone focused on completing the required agenda in the stipulated period of time. Keep track of how many meetings go into overtime. This can be a key metric to analyzing and calculating the effectiveness of your meetings for future optimization.
  3. For participants who reach meetings late you do not need to do a re-cap unless critical. You can fill the participants in after the meeting has concluded. Demerit points can be assigned to individuals who are continuously late. This can be included in the individuals performance review and needs to be taken seriously.

Keeping Focus: Losing focus during a meeting is quite easy. Any off-topic comment can send the meeting on a completely new tangent which will have a negative impact on both the timing and quality of the meeting. A few pointers on enforcing focus during a meeting are;

  1. Use your agenda pointers to help keep track of the meeting’s progress. When discussing an agenda point, allocate a certain action to that point once discussed and cross it off the list. This will help  bring closure to the point and make it harder to come back to discuss the point again.
  2. Ask only relevant questions during the discussion. When an off-topic comment or question is asked it has the ability to completely derail the meeting from the agenda. If you are the facilitator of the meeting do your best to keep off- topic questions to the minimum.
  3. Keep distractions to the minimum. There should be no cellphone conversations allowed during the course of the meetings. This has to be taken seriously to remain focused on reaching the goal in the time allocated.
  4. If the meeting is scheduled to take 2 hours do your best to incorporate at least one break for 5 – 10 minutes to keep participants focused and attentive.

Once you are able to bring these two key components under control you will enjoy shorter and more effective meetings.

Whats the Agenda?

Pre Meeting Agenda

Starting a meeting without a pre-defined plan results in confusion, frustration and is a waste of time. The agenda for a meeting has to be used as a guide to steer the conversation towards achieving the outlined goals. It is not good enough to have the agenda in your head and to go with the flow during the meeting. You need to have a clearly written agenda which should be communicated to all participants before the meeting. This allows everyone to do some preliminary research on the topics which are to be discussed to make it more productive. When setting up a meeting follow 4 basic steps to produce the agenda:

  1. Have a clear goal for the meeting: Every meeting should have a clear focus. Writing down this goal in a clear precise manner helps to visualize the outcome which is required. Some meetings may not appear to have a clear focus, especially in the early phases at a startup company. However you need to pinpoint quantifiable areas. When you are discussing the viability of your service goals for the meeting “Reach a consensus on which functionalities are viable and necessary in the alpha version of the service.” Writing down and communicating the focus of the meeting will create boundaries to work within and will result in more productive meetings.
  2. Determine the intermediate steps required: When you set an agenda for the meeting do your best to avoid generalization of intermediary steps. For example if you are in a meeting where the goal is “Select a vendor for a CRM solution” discussing “Advantages of CRM solutions” or “How CRM will impact the company” are not relevant to reaching the goal and if you want to assess advantages, disadvantages and impact of the solutions they should be categorized in specific manageable discussion points. You have to ensure that each of your intermediary steps helps you reach your goal. Keep goals as specific as possible to avoid irrelevant or vague discussion points.
  3. Select the right people to attend: Decision makers or those with a direct connection with the goal should be invited to the meeting. Inviting individuals who have no direct impact on what is being discussed, results primarily in wasting resource time, and may slow down the meeting causing digression into unrelated topics. If you are selecting a psychometric vendor; the IT manager, finance manager, head of HR should be invited. These will be key decision makers who will be able to arrive at a conclusion quickly and effectively. Calling someone from the quality control department may not be a wise choice. Simple as this may seem we still seem to be dragged into meetings where we add no value. Make sure each resource at your next meeting is adding value otherwise you are wasting company resources.
  4. Identify potential barriers before hand: Barriers and roadblocks are common in most meetings. Being an effective meeting leader will require you to forecast these barriers before the actual presentation. This will allow you to manage conflict between opinions more effectively. To handle this situation you will need to know the individuals who will be taking part in the meeting, their personalities, their respective departments and their temperaments based on prior meetings to keep the meeting running on time and moving towards reaching your goals. If you are pitching to a customer you can use past experiences with other customers to predict areas where resistance is expected.

Agendas are essential blueprints to having successful meetings. Make sure that you communicate a clear and specific agenda before the meeting and do your best to keep the discussion in line with the points. Following this will impact greatly on the productivity of your next meeting .

Not another meeting!

Meeting Scheduling

Peter Drucker states in his book, The Effective Executive, “We meet because people holding different jobs have to cooperate to get a specific task done. We meet because the knowledge and experience needed in a specific situation are not available in one head, but have to be pieced together out of the knowledge and experience of several people.” However in todays workplace I feel that meetings have been overused and have reached a stage where they have become more of an impediment than a catalyst.

Effective meetings are critical to any business whether you are a 2 person startup or a multinational organization. They are the building blocks of effective communication throughout an organization. You can have three kinds of meetings, good ones, bad ones or unnecessary ones. Effective meetings are ones where there is a prepared agenda, focused and time bound, encourage participation, decisions are made and actions items are assigned with completion dates. These factors are the basis for any effective meeting.

Meetings are a direct cost to any organization. The hours which are spent by the participants in unnecessary or ineffective meetings add up. We have to ensure that even at a startup company meetings are well planned out as losing focus during a meeting is  simple if it is not controlled. Using these principles I have been able to achieve more effective meetings which have had a direct impact on efficiency, team morale and collaborative decision making. During the course of the following week I will highlight each factor in a lot more detail. I look forward to any comments or feedback along the way from readers who have been able to make their meetings more effective.