How To Run a Great Meeting

By Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA
Leadership Coach
http://www.redpointcoaching.com

‘One either meets or one works’ – Peter Drucker

‘Shadowing’ my clients at meetings they lead or participate in is an important part of my leadership coaching. It is a highly effective coaching technique that allows for just-in-time feedback to my clients.

Through these shadowing sessions, I get to experience many different meeting settings and styles. Time and time again I am amazed how poorly some of these meetings are run (yes, even by some of my clients…). No wonder our people complain about meetings: they are boring, the boss just drones on, we don’t actually accomplish anything, etc. etc.

By following three very basic principles, you will be virtually guaranteed to run a solid – maybe even a great – meeting. You will help your team achieve bigger goals, resolve and even prevent unhealthy conflict, and promote good teamwork.

Like with many things in life, the 80/20 rule applies: apply these basic three principles to your meetings (20%) and you will take care of 80% of the usual meeting dysfunctions.

Before I get to the three principles, one thing upfront: only have a meeting if you need a two-way conversation. Meetings are meant for discussion, debate, and decision making. If you merely need to relay information one way, consider other methods (such as email).

 

Define Outcome Goals for Every Agenda Item

Get into the disciplined habit of sharing outcome goals with your team at the onset of every discussion. Start every agenda item with the following sentence: “The outcome goal of this discussion is to….”.

Here is a list of things I hear all too often that are NOT outcome goals:

  • ‘talk about…’
  • ‘further discuss…..’
  • ‘tell you all about…’

 

Here is a list of good outcome goals:

  • ‘make a decision on….
  • ‘develop a clear plan for…’
  • ‘brainstorm and capture ideas for ….’
  • ‘get buy in for….’
  • ‘receive input on…’
  • ‘get everyone’s questions on … answered’

By forcing yourself to define an outcome goal, you clarify for yourself and your team why this is worthy of discussion.

 

Clarify How You Will Make Decisions

Before capturing any decision you are making during the meeting, clarify how you will make it. I have experienced countless cases where leaders did not communicate how they will make their decision leading to huge frustrations on the team’s part.

Here is the classic scenario: the leaders simply wants input from the team, but in her mind it’s clear that she will make the decision on her own after listening to her team’s discussion. As far as she is concerned, the team has consulting/influencing power but no decision-making power. The team members, on the other hand, assume that they actually have decision-making power (e.g. through a vote) and are stunned that the leader wraps up the discussion by stating that she will announce her decision next week.

To avoid the frustration, the leader could have clarified at the onset of the discussion: ‘I will make the decision next week after hearing everyone’s opinion and input today.’ Alternatively she could have said: ‘We will make this decision by majority vote,’ or

‘It is important to me that everyone is 100% on board with the decision we reach. Hence we will make the decision by consensus.’

No matter how you will decide, communicate your decision-making process upfront, thereby avoiding misunderstandings and frustration!

 

Capture Decisions, Next Steps and Accountability

Many people dislike meetings because they feel nothing ever gets decided or acted upon. Don’t run one of those meetings.

Your goal as the meeting chair is to make sure that all team members understand what has been decided on at the meeting, what the next step is, who will take it, and by when.

Once you have reached a decision, have your team members verbalize/paraphrase their understanding of the decision. You will be amazed how this simple exercise of paraphrasing surfaces misunderstandings about decisions you assumed had been made!

Don’t keep minutes – capture decisions, action items, ownership, and timelines. After the meeting, send brief notes out to all the participants of the meeting.

These notes might look something like this:

 

Decision?

Fill the open position in our department by end of September 2015.

 

Next deliverable?

Draft job ad in conjunction with HR and email to all before next meeting. Finalize at next team meeting.

 

By whom?

Bill (Director of Marketing)

 

By when?

Email job ad to all before next meeting

Be sure to bring these notes forward to your next meeting. Start the next meeting with a review of the outstanding action items from last meeting. You will be surprised at how productive your people will be when they know that they will be held accountable in front of their peers. If they haven’t made progress, use this time to figure out why and help them remove obstacles.

I believe that even the late, great Peter Drucker would have agreed that meetings which follow these three basic principles would be worth attending!

 

In 2014: Design The Best Place To Work, by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA, Principal, Redpoint Coaching

by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA, Principal, Redpoint Coaching

jsw_kidbuildingAs we embark onto 2014 I would like challenge you to design the very best place to work! How would this organization of our dreams look do you ask? Read on…

Rob Goffee, an emeritus professor of organizational behavioral at the London School of Business, and Gareth Jones, a visiting professor at the IF Business School in Madrid, posed the question about what the company of our dreams looks like to hundreds of leaders. They summarized their findings in the May 2013 edition of the Harvard Business Review (“Creating the best workplace on earth: what employees really require to be their most productive”)

Here is what they found. In the organization of our dreams:

  1. I can be myself
  2. I am told what is really going on
  3. My strengths are magnified
  4. The company stands for something meaningful
  5. My daily work is rewarding
  6. Stupid rules don’t exist

These principles might all sound like common sense. Who wouldn’t want to work in a place that followed them? Most leaders and all of our clients are aware of the benefits of such a ‘dream organization’, which many studies have confirmed. And yet, no organization we are aware of possesses all six virtues.

Why is that so? Several of the attributes run counter to traditional and well established practices and deeply ingrained habits. Others are complicated and costly to implement. Some conflict with each other. All of them require you as the leader to carefully balance competing interests and to rethink how you allocate your time and energy.

So as Goffee and Jones point out, the company of our dreams remains largely aspirational.  I therefore offer the below assessment as a challenge to you and your people to aim at creating the most productive and rewarding working environment possible.

The Dream Company Diagnostic

How close is your business to the ideal? The more checks, the closer you are.

  1. Take the assessment yourself
  2. Have your senior team and a cross section of your people take the assessment
  3. Compare the findings and discuss inconsistencies

Let me be myself

___ I am the same person at home as I am at work

___ I feel comfortable being myself

___ We are all encouraged to express our differences

___ People who think differently from most do well here

___ Passion is encouraged, even when it leads to conflict

___ More than one type of person fits in here

Tell me what’s really going on

___ We’re all told the whole story

___ Information is not “spun”

___ It’s not disloyal to say something negative

___ My manager wants to hear bad news

___ Top executives want to hear bad news

___ Many channels of communication are available to us

___ I feel comfortable signing my name to comments I make

 Discover and magnify my strengths

___ I am given the chance to develop

___ Every employee is given the chance to develop

___ The best people want to strut their stuff here

___ The weakest performers can see a path to improvement

___ Compensation is fairly distributed throughout the organization

___ We generate value for ourselves by adding value to others

Make me proud I work here

___ I know what we stand for

___ I value what we stand for

___ I want to exceed my current duties

___ Profit is not our overriding goal

___ I am accomplishing something worthwhile

___ I like to tell people where I work

Make my work meaningful

___ My job is meaningful to me

___ My duties make sense to me

___ My work gives me energy and pleasure

___ I understand how my job fits with everyone else’s

___ Everyone’s job is necessary

___ At work we share a common cause

Don’t hinder me with stupid rules

___ We keep things simple

___ The rules are clear and apply equally to everyone

___ I know what the rules are for

___ Everyone knows what the rules are for

___ We, as an organization, resist red tape

___ Authority is respected

Decide where you believe the most important deficits are and take action during 2014 in order to move your organization one step closer towards the very best place to work.

How to Make Better Business Decisions: Avoid the Hidden Traps! (Part II), by Urs Koenig, MBA, PhD, Principal, Redpoint Coaching

jsw_sunk_cost_imageMaking decisions is one of the most important jobs of leaders. It is also the toughest and the riskiest. Bad decisions can ruin your business or career.

In a previous edition of ChangeAbility,  I examined two, well-documented psychological traps and told you what you can do about them in order to make better decisions.  These two traps were:

THE ANCHORING TRAP & THE STATUS-QUO TRAP

In this edition, I am discussing the following two traps:

THE SUNK-COST TRAP & THE CONFIRMING EVIDENCE TRAP

THE SUNK-COST TRAP

We all sometimes make choices in a way that justifies past choices, even when the past choices are no longer valid.

Imagine you have been standing in line at the post office for 15 minutes. You have a meeting with an important client coming up, and you run the risk of being late to the meeting if you keep standing in line. What do you do?

For many of us the thinking goes something like this, “Well, dam#$^%! I have already been standing in line for 15 minutes; it would be really stupid to give up my space now, so I will stand in line even if I end up being late to the important meeting.” We just fell into the sunk-cost trap.  How so?

It’s simple: we are justifying our decision to keep standing in line by what we have done in the past (i.e. standing in line for 15 minutes already) and not by what is best going forward. Even if you have been standing in line for hours, you need to leave the line if your client meeting is more important than mailing those packages. As economists would say: it’s all about maximizing your utility going forward!

Other examples of the sunk-cost trap include business owners who pour enormous effort into improving the performance of an employee whom they should not have hired in the first place. It is also very common in banking. When a borrower’s business runs into trouble, a lender often advances additional funds in the hope that the business can turn around. If the business does have a good chance to do that, this is wise; otherwise it’s just throwing good money after bad.

Why can we not free ourselves from past decisions? Frequently, it is because we are unwilling to admit mistakes. If you, for example, fire a poor performer who you hired, you are making a public admission of poor judgment. It seems psychologically safer to let him or her stay on, even though that choice only compounds the error.

Sometimes a corporate culture reinforces the sunk-cost trap. If the penalties for making a decision that leads to poor outcome are overly severe, managers will be motivated to let failed projects drag on forever – in the vain hope that they will somehow turn around.

WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT THE SUNK-COST TRAP?

Make a conscious effort to set aside any sunk cost – whether psychological or economic – that will muddy your thinking about the choices at hand:

  • Seek out and listen carefully to the views of people who were uninvolved with the earlier decision
  • Examine why admitting earlier mistakes distresses you. If it’s your wounded self-esteem, deal with it head-on. Remind yourself that even smart choices can have bad consequences and that even the best and most experienced executives are not immune to errors in judgment
  • Don’t cultivate a failure-fearing culture that makes employees perpetuate their mistakes. Lead by example by admitting your own mistakes
  • Remember: “If you are in a hole, stop digging.” – Warren Buffet 

THE CONFIRMING-EVIDENCE TRAP

Imagine you are the president of a successful, mid-size, Italian shoe manufacturer, considering whether to call off a planned plant expansion. For a while you have been concerned that your company won’t be able to sustain the rapid pace of growth of its exports. You fear that the value of the Euro will strengthen in coming months, making your goods more costly for overseas consumers. But before you put the brakes on the plant expansion, you decide to call up an old business school classmate, the CEO of a similar company that recently cancelled plans for a new factory, to check her reasoning. She presents a strong case that other currencies are about to weaken against the Euro. What do you do?

You’d better not let this conversation be the clincher because you’ve probably just fallen victim to the confirming-evidence trap. This bias leads us to seek out information that supports our existing instincts or points of view while avoiding information that contradicts it. What, after all, did you expect your acquaintance to give, other than a strong argument in favor of her decision?

Two fundamental psychological forces are at work here:

  • We subconsciously decide what we want to do before we figure out why we want to do it.
  • Our inclination is to be more engaged by things we like than by things we dislike – a tendency well documented even in babies. Naturally, we are drawn to information that supports our subconscious leanings.

WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT THE CONFIRMING EVIDENCE TRAP?

It’s not that you should not make the choice you are subconsciously drawn to. It’s just that you want to make sure it’s the smart choice. Here is how you put it to the test:

  • Get someone you respect to play the devil’s advocate to argue against the decision you are contemplating. Better yet, build the counter-argument yourself. What are the strongest reasons to do something else?
  • Be honest with yourself about your motives. Are you really gathering information to help you make a smart choice, or are you just looking for evidence confirming what you think you’d like to do?
  • In seeking the advice of others, don’t ask leading questions that invite confirming evidence. If you find that an advisor always seems to support your point of view, find a new advisor. Do not surround yourself with yes-men (and women).

Your Take-Away:

  • When facing major decisions in your business or life, be sure to use the above techniques to avoid falling into the Sunk-Cost Trap and the Confirming Evidence Trap.

This article is based on: “Hammond, Ralph & Raiffa: The Hidden Traps in Decision Making,” Harvard Business Review, January 2006.