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How many times have you sat in a meeting and asked yourself, "Why am I here?" Meetings take up valuable time and can be a major contributor to ineffectiveness. To counteract this, managers follow age-old best practices such as supplying an agenda and only inviting relevant personnel. Is this the right solution? A more fundamental question is, "Do we need to have this meeting at all?"

Delegate Accountability to Specified Roles

When there is no accountability and authority framework in the workplace, or if there is one but it's not working properly, individuals may not be clear about what they're accountable for in their particular roles. When a manager lacks clarity, his or her first reaction is to gather others together to build a consensus. This consensus-building process occurs because no one individual is taking accountability: they're actually diffusing accountability. The thinking process is, "What we choose to move forward with, we've chosen together. It's not my decision alone."

The Appropriate Consultation Process

There is a better way. Instead of calling a meeting (or several) and building a consensus with a group of peripheral employees, the effective manager will consult appropriately and then make the decision within his or her accountability and authority. The thinking here is entirely different, and puts the onus on the manager: "I need to make this decision. My boss is quite clear that I have the authority to make this decision. I understand that it will impact on others, so I will consult the relevant parties using the appropriate channels."

There are plenty of effective alternatives to full-scale meetings; for instance, a quick one-page write-up that outlines the manager's planned course of action and asks for feedback can save significant hours of valuable staff time. If a follow-up mini-meeting is required, it can be briefer and more focused because everyone understands who has the authority and is accountable to make the decision.

Trade-Off Committees or Groups

In some instances when a number of stakeholders are involved, organizations opt to form a committee that is accountable for decision-making in a specific area. The thinking behind this is that this is an important area for the organization, so let's create a standing committee to oversee this work and ensure that everyone is on board. In many cases the Chairs of these committees rotate amongst the various participants.

But, like meetings, committees do not make decisions without consensus, which can mean inappropriate trade-offs for the organization. The committee becomes a forum for discussion, but a committee cannot be held accountable. As a result, precious time is taken in standing meetings without a clear decision-making process. Typically a recommendation goes to the Senior Management Team, and they re-debate all of the issues.

It is far better to empower one individual with the accountability and authority for the work. This individual, as part of his or her job, will have the expertise, do the research, consult appropriately, and either decide if that is appropriate, or draft solutions and make recommendations based on his or her judgment to bring forward to the CEO. The CEO will then consult with the senior management team so there will be that opportunity for comment from all of the involved functions.

With a clear accountability and authority framework, organizations do not need to subvert accountability with committees, groups, or pointless meetings to build consensus. When a manager feels empowered to make decisions and is accountable to do so, the entire organization benefits from streamlined processes, clarity of action and fewer, shorter meetings.


Larry Hart

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