Three Tips For Better, More Productive Meetings

A meeting is no substitute for progress.

Meetings occupy a great deal of your time. But not every meeting is worth your time. Some meetings “hum” while others just “plug along.”

What sound do your meetings make? Do they sound like a symphony? People come together, and with great skill they produce wonderful results. Or do they sound like a bunch of noise? People go off in different directions, whenever they feel like it, and nothing ever seems to get accomplished.

Your meetings need to sound like a symphony. After all, that’s where your company culture gets defined. That’s where plans are discussed and decisions are made. And that’s where people come together to get on the “same page.” So your meetings had better be good.

There are several things you can do to “tune up” your meetings. Here’s a few from my program on “Teams That Win: Tips and Tactics for Scoring Major Victories.”

START WITH ATMOSPHERE. Don’t leave it to chance. Do some things to set the tone. Play some upbeat music during the gathering process, for example. Turn it back on during breaks, or play it in the background when appropriate. It will help you build a more positive, creative atmosphere in which to meet.

You could also build an invigorating atmosphere by changing your meeting logistics from time to time. In other words, get away from the “same time – same place” syndrome. I’ve seen great meetings take place around a bonfire at 10:30 p.m. or on a deck overlooking breath-taking scenery at 5:30 a.m. I’ve even seen great meetings take place in a locker room after a workout.

Then BE SURE YOU HAVE SOME CLEAR GROUND RULES. As a team, you need to agree on a set of behaviors that will make your meetings productive. And you need to agree on these things before you conduct any business.

Ground rules could cover such things as participation. For example, “Everyone is expected to contribute,” or “Honest disagreements are encouraged, but personal put-downs are not acceptable.”

And certainly, ground rules should apply to every item on your agenda. They should make it clear whether an item is for “discussion” or “decision.” Do participants get a “voice” or a “vote?” When participants don’t know, they don’t participate as actively or as openly.

Finally, HAVE SOME TOOLS FOR MAKING WISE DECISIONS. One of the major reasons for having a team is to make better decisions than an individual would make by him or herself.

It’s like the man who was cleaning his attic and found an old brass lamp. He rubbed the lamp, and out popped a genie in a puff of smoke.

The genie said, “Thank you. I’ve been locked in the lamp for a hundred years. For releasing me, I will answer any three questions you care to ask.”

The man said, “Who? Me?”

“Yes, you,” replied the genie. “Third question?” Obviously the man by himself didn’t make a very wise decision.

And neither did the little boy in one family. When his teenage sister complained about dinner, her mother simply said, “Tonight was your little brother’s turn to choose the meal. We’re having gum.”

One technique that will help you in the decision-making process is the “100-Vote Technique.” When you’re looking at a number of options, it will help your team prioritize your options.

Each team member is given 100 votes to distribute among the various options or issues. An individual can give a large number of votes to important issues and fewer votes to less important ones. He does this until he has no votes left.

Then the team simply tallies the votes, indicating the number of team members that voted for a particular option and the number of votes they gave it. For example, 5/58 would mean that 5 people gave 58 votes to a particular option. It’s an excellent way to prioritize options.

A second technique that will help you in the decision-making process is the “Dot Explosion.” List all your options or issues on a flipchart. Give each team member an equal number of green and red sticky dots. And then instead of voting by hand or with ballots, have everyone place a green dot next to the flipchart items they would vote “yes” and a red dot next to the items they would vote “no.” You’ll get a quick, clear snapshot of your team’s sentiment.

A third technique is good when you have lots of choices. It’s good for narrowing down your choices in the decision-making process. I call it “Multivoting.” You simply ask your team to vote for those choices they believe are worthy of continued discussion. Any choice that receives at least half of the team’s votes stays in contention for the next round.

Continue the process, voting over and over. Each time you vote, you just keep those items that are in the top half of the vote getters. You do this until your choices are narrowed down to a manageable number.

I’ve been teaching meeting techniques and team strategies for a number of years. The one thing I’ve learned is that teamwork takes a lot of work. It doesn’t happen automatically.

It’s like the man whose car was stuck in the mud. He walked to a nearby farmer to ask for help. The farmer gladly obliged.

The farmer got his blind mule Elmo. He hooked him up and hollered, “Pull, Joshua, pull. Pull Bessie, pull. Pull, Jackson, pull.” And finally he said, “Pull, Elmo, pull.”

The car came out of the mud. But, of course the man had to ask the farmer why he called out all those other names. The farmer said, “If he didn’t think he had any help, he wouldn’t even try.”

Action:  The next time your team gets together and is discussing a number of options, try one of the outlined approaches to facilitate your decision-making. Try the “100-Vote Technique,” the “Dot Explosion,” or “Multivoting.” You’ll save a lot of time, but you’ll also involve everyone in the decision.