We’ve written elsewhere about just how critical the effectiveness of your system of meetings is to your company’s organizational health and business success. But of course, the building blocks of that system are your individual meetings themselves. Think for a moment of just how much time you spend in meetings. Then multiply that by the numbers of people in your company. Consequently, if you have a culture of sloppy, ineffective meeting practices, your company has a productivity time sink of alarming proportions.
If it’s true, as the old sayings go, that “great oaks from the smallest acorns grow,” or “the longest journey begins with a single step,” then it’s also true that the way your company “operates” on the whole is, to a large extent, the aggregate of one meeting at a time.
Being More Intentional About Group Process
So what can you do about improving the efficiency and effectiveness of these all-important individual “blocks” of precious time? The general answer is: you can be more intentional about meetings. That is, instead of simply letting them happen extemporaneously, you can be more thoughtful and constructively critical about them. Instead of focusing on just their content, you can be more aware of and disciplined about their process dimension.
But as we said, that’s a general answer. How would you actually go about doing that? The concrete answer is something we frequently use with our clients. It’s called the “process check.” The process check is a simple tool that provides you with concrete criteria by which to evaluate your meetings as they are so that you can identify specific opportunities for making them more effective and efficient.
Process Check Criteria
A good process check first identifies the elements that are typically most critical to group effectiveness, such as:
Meeting planning: Are our meetings typically disorganized? Or well-planned?
- At task: Do we typically go off on tangents? Or do we stay focused?
- Agenda: Do we ever use one? Or are our meetings agenda-less?
- Listening skills: Is more than one person usually talking at once? Do we interrupt?
- Decision-making: Do our decisions reflect solid group agreement? Or is buy-in weak and fragmented because of the hap-hazard way we decide?
- Participation: Are all participants involved? Or are our meetings usually dominated by a few people while others “sit on their hands?”
We find ourselves using these criteria with clients most often because, in our experience, these are the most typical barriers to meeting effectiveness. However, it’s important to note that, if you feel your group or team is prone to a particular pitfall that detracts from its effectiveness, you can always plug it into your process check to personalize the tool’s effectiveness.
Rating Criteria and Evaluating Your “Grades”
With the critical elements defined, simply create a rating spectrum – from 1 to 5, or 1 to 10, say, – for each criterion you’ve identified. Then ask each meeting participant to rate the effectiveness of your meetings against each of the criteria. You can do this at the beginning of a meeting, just asking for ratings verbally and then discussing each. Or, you can collect the ratings anonymously, have someone compile them and discuss them at the beginning of your next session. Either way, you’re providing structure to a discussion about not just the content of your meetings but also about the way you are going about dealing with that content. Given that poor meeting process can be the biggest barrier to group or team effectiveness, you’ll be helping to ensure that your team takes conscious steps that maximize its own time investment as well as its business impact.
Process Checks for Task Teams
Process checks are especially helpful for groups that belong to task teams or other work groups that, by virtue of their responsibility for a longer-term project or challenge, are committed to meeting together as a defined group over an extended period of time. In this case, taking stock of the effectiveness of your meetings early in your project’s life cycle enables you to improve your team meeting process over time. And this can’t help but make you more efficient and improve your team’s effectiveness against your project’s goals and timetable.
Lousy Meeting? Speak Up!
So, the next time you find yourself in a dysfunctional meeting that’s wasting your time, remember: it doesn’t have to be this way. Suggest a pause in the action and a healthy “process check” for your meeting team. Chances are very good that some of your fellow meeting-goers are feeling the very same frustration you are. And they’ll be only too happy to exploit the chance this handy little tool provides to improve your team’s effectiveness and, ultimately, your company’s performance as well!