Mills: Task and process need equal time

We spend usually far more time than we’d like in meetings when there is so much else that needs to get done.

In the world of work, we spend a great deal of time in meetings, usually far more than we’d like when there is so much else that needs to get done.

Let’s take the example of leadership team meetings.

The boss decides it is important to bring the senior managers together for weekly meetings. The thinking is that doing so will strengthen the team as a unit and engage them in dealing with strategic issues.

Those are fine objectives. Regular team meetings are a great way to keep key managers up to date on high level organizational plans that impact them and their work groups.

It can’t just be a one-way dialogue, though.  There is also a wonderful opportunity here to draw on the collective strengths of the senior team to create well designed management strategies.

Unfortunately, weekly leadership team meetings often end up to be task-focused most of the time. The focus is on identifying what needs to be done and making it happen.

It’s an easy habit to slip into because there will always be operational problems to resolve and new opportunities to explore. However, if these tactical concerns form the regular agenda, it leaves the leadership team little time for big picture strategizing, which is a key component of their role.

The way to maximize the outcomes of leadership team meetings is to plan ahead, manage the time skilfully and use efficient processes to keep the group moving forward in their discussions and decision-making. With all the demands put on senior managers these days, using their time wisely is vital.

One thing that I recommend strongly to my executive clients is to regularly set aside an entire meeting for reflecting on and analyzing how the leadership team functions in key areas. How is information shared, how is discussion facilitated, how is disagreement managed and how are decisions made? What is done in team meetings is important, but perhaps even more critical to outcomes is how it is done.

It is easier to do this kind of analysis with an outside facilitator who can observe the team in action, give feedback and suggest ways to improve its processes. Drawing on the resources of a trained facilitator to help the team function more effectively is a smart move.  Doing it on a regular basis is even smarter.

Old habits die hard, as we say, and it is too easy to sacrifice an effective process when the tasks loom large.  Still, with some solid tools and resources in place, the team can learn to self manage.

A great practice for the boss is to get input on the agenda, identify the priority outcomes for the meeting and share those in advance.  Then allot a specific amount of time for each agenda item and clearly identify whether it is for discussion only, follow up action or requires a team decision.

By laying out those parameters up front, the leadership team will show up knowing what is expected of them.  This approach works particularly well for individuals who like to gather their thoughts in advance and bring along any relevant documents to support discussion or decision-making.

When a leadership team is expected to participate in a key decision, it is absolutely critical to ensure that the process is focused and thorough.

Common complaints are that an issue is discussed endlessly, things don’t get resolved and either a decision is perpetually postponed or it is made too quickly with inadequate data.

By establishing—and consistently following —a step-by-step problem solving process that leads the team through the stages of data gathering, analysis, assessment of options and their impact on people will increase the quality of any decision.  A periodic review of team processes can really highlight what’s working well and what is not.

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