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Like it or lump it, meetings are the back bone of our agility as an organization. Agile meetings that is! They are central to driving the conversation flow you need, organizing chaos, fully triaging your agile execution challenge, tapping into the collective insight of your team for foresight, inviting good luck and driving your journey in traction where you want it to go. But in many businesses, meetings are a source of wheelspin. They start late, run long, don't achieve much in between and have poor follow-up. As a result, they are seen as time-consumers and everyone is in some state of meetings overload.

Sound familiar? Big mistake, think again! Agile meetings, whether face-to-face or virtual, are at the heart of our agility as an organization. They are essential to drive the communication, collaboration and coordination we need as a team to prevail. Done well, meetings are time savers, chaos savers and crises savers! Here are ten tips to get organized with an agile portfolio of meetings, the agile flow of individual meetings and the skills of agile facilitation.

Agile Portfolio of Meetings

Think of your portfolio meetings as the gearbox in the transmission system of your business vehicle. We need the right cogs, being kept well oiled, individually turning over well and meshing well with each other to work as a whole, with smaller cogs turning over with higher frequency and larger cogs turning over with lower frequency.

It's a design challenge, which I urge you to invest in just like you do in designing products.

Tip #1: Create a Matrix of Your Meetings which outlines a recurring portfolio of regular meetings: Name of the Meeting; Frequency and Recurring Schedule, Attendees, Chair and 2nd Chair/3rd Chair (so the meeting always happens); Outline Objectives and Agenda; Inputs (who presents/reports what), Throughputs (what discussions occur) and Outputs (what decisions get made); Annual Calendar of Which Meetings Happen When (so everyone can plan around this recurring schedule).
Tip #2: Review Your Meetings Matrix to add, subtract or modify. Modify those meetings which aren't working well but have the potential to add value. Subtract those meetings which aren't adding value and you can do without. Add those meetings which we ought to be having but aren't (in particular, paying close attention to cross-functional meetings we really ought to be having to overcome silo mentality). In the mix, you will probably end up unbundling some meetings and bundling others, to optimize your portfolio.
Tip #3: Continually Improve Your Meetings Matrix & Annual Calendar to learn as you go, seek feedback from participants on what's working well and not working well, making design adjustments and seeing how they work.
Version 1 of your meetings matrix and annual calendar may not run as a well-oiled machine, but later versions can.
  • "I have realized that a core part of my role as a CEO is meetings. Establishing, running and improving the right portfolio of meetings to make sure that we are proactively driving the right conversations, decisions and actions on the array of things we have to get right. With some regret, I wish I had realized this earlier in my career"
Tip #4: Consider a Morning Meeting (or daily huddle at some other time of day if shift patterns or time zones dictate). Yes, that's right, every single day of your top executive team! Why? Consider the words of some practitioners:
  • "Game-changer! Initially I was very skeptical about morning meetings - too expensive I thought - we can't afford the overhead of taking 30 minutes of the senior management's time every day. But now, only a few weeks later, I don't want to start my day without it! The opportunity to check in with everything going on helps me immerse myself in what my focus needs to be for the rest of the day, confident that everyone else is doing the same, that no news is good news and that we can re-synchronize again tomorrow morning. I also don't stress if I have to miss a meeting as I know I will be right back up to speed in the next one. Morning meetings have been a game-changer for us: in my opinion, we can't afford not to have them".
  • "Amazing! Adopting morning meetings has had an enormous impact on our agility as an organization. We have revved up our communication, coordination and collaboration as a team and, as a result, I get half the e-mails I used to get and have half the ad-hoc meetings I used to have. We are getting much more done in much less time with much less chaos".
  • "Awesome! We are completing critical initiatives in 6 weeks which in the past would have taken 6 months, by sustaining a sense of urgency, focus and momentum".
  • "The fires have gone! We aren't firefighting all the time like we used to. With our morning meeting we have installed a sprinkler system which kicks in and puts them out before they spread".
  • "Epiphany! I realize I spend my day walking around the business having the morning meeting that I didn't have!"

Start a Chaos Journal.

Not sure if you would benefit from a Morning Meeting (and other meetings in your Meetings Matrix)? Start a Chaos Journal. Keep a journal of chaos and crises which happen in your business. Use a physical journal, a ring binder, your day planner of a folder in your notes structure on your tablet. Soon after chaos or crises happen, write down some notes about it (what, where, when, how, who, why) and what you have learned reactively in hindsight which you might have handled proactively in foresight. Any patterns you see become candidates for inclusion in your Meetings Matrix and/or Morning Meeting.

Agile Flow of Individual Meetings

Each individual meeting needs to be agile and traction creating.

Tip #5: Meetings Should be Easy for You (or whoever is Chairing the Meeting). You should be able to sit down and ask, "who's up first?" which is crystal clear as there is a standing agenda, a master spreadsheet with tabs in order of agenda and the expected inputs/throughputs/outputs are crystal clear. Go electronic and capture everything in-process (action items are captured real-time electronically, projecting for all to see, in the master spreadsheet which is hosted on server for ease of access for all) so there is no work for you to do before or after the meeting. There are many online team coordination and project management software tools available these days.
Tip #6: Time-Box Everything. Time-box the meeting overall (for example, by default meetings last 45 minutes, from 5 after the hour to 10 minutes to the hour), individual agenda items and especially presentations. Get people used to the fact that you will guillotine anything which runs over and they have to figure out how to get it down in the time available.
Tip #7: Leverage the Wall-Space. The wall space is one of the most under-utilized assets in your business. Have the standing agenda on the wall, creative problem solving frameworks, your core values, key elements of your strategic plan, inspirational quotations etc, all in large enough format that you can standup and point. Plus have other ideation resources in the room, such as a white-boards, flip-charts, blank paper, templates, mind-mapping software etc. Create a container people walk into when they come into the room.

Agile Facilitation Skills

Facilitating agile meetings is an important skill to be working on.

Tip #8: Set the Tone/Bar for the Energy Level by playing a video or some music, having something physical on the table to interact with, telling a story, reading a quotation or a short passage from a book. Mix it up from meeting to meeting to be unpredictable, create a surprise factor and a sense of anticipation. Frame the purpose of the meeting as a Question (how do we best ...?) as the human brain starts thinking in response to a question to everyone starts to get intellectually and emotionally engaged.
Tip #9: Generate, Extend and Expand Input. Generate input by asking everyone to "take a quiet minute to write something down and then we will go around the table", or break them into pairs/triads, "to discuss and be ready to report out". These approaches set the expectation that we will hear from everyone. Extend the input by saying "tell us more" or asking, "what-else?", "how-so?", "how does that fit with ...?". Expand input by asking "what are our other options?", "what are we not thinking about?" and "what are we missing?"
Tip #10: Get Fast Consensus to Fast/Good Decisions. We don't have the luxury of slow/perfect decisions these days. In any case, they typically turn into slow/bureaucratic decisions (we have meeting after meeting after meeting on the same issue!) and then slow/bad decisions (made by committee!). We shouldn't be making fast/reckless decisions either, with insufficient dialog. The right answer is somewhere in between, fast/good decisions through fast consensus. After facilitating a focused dialog with an appropriate sense of urgency and time criticality, it's a leader's job to make a judgment call about when to move for fast-consensus on a fast/good decision. Say something like, "it seems like we have all the options on the table and, having listed to the dialog, on balance I am leaning towards option .......", "does anyone have any violent objection towards that", and, "can everyone get behind that?". If so, then move the dialog into one of implementation, "so, how would we best do that?".

These top 10 tips will help you make your meetings traction creating and a crucial part of your agility as an organization. Well-facilitated individual meetings and a well-designed portfolio of recurring meetings are essential. Their absence means every hot-potato issue which comes up has to be handled through ad-hoc meetings, which is what typically tips most organizations into meetings overload. Regular meetings are time-savers, chaos savers and crises savers. They will help you get much more done, in much less time, with much less chaos! They are crucial to you becoming an Agile Leader.

Contributed by Mike Richardson of Agility Consulting


Larry Hart

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