Tag Archives: meeting management

Avoiding Death by A Thousand Cuts

By:  Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

Inside view of a watch

Since you can never create more time, be sure that you are not wasting it here.

Time.  You never seem to have enough of it and it is the great equalizer of companies of any size whether they realize it or not.  In a startup, you have a limited amount of time to get everything done so that you have a strong product launch before your funds run out and your investors are on to the next thing.  In a larger company, time is just as crucial but the consequences of wasting it are less apparent.  Without a sense of urgency, established companies can slowly sink into mediocrity after weak or failed product launches, poor BD and other important growth enhancing activities.

The biggest time waster of all at any size company is the useless meeting 
Startups will become established companies so establishing a sane and productive meeting policy at the beginning will save you from this death by a thousand cuts (meetings).

If you are looking to drive success at your company, here are some things you can do to assess the effectiveness of your current meetings:

  • Do the math:  How many people attended the meeting (N) x average hourly salary (S) x length of meeting in hours (H) = $ cost of the meeting (N x S x H).  For example:  A meeting of 5 people for one hour would cost you $500 if the average salary rate were $100 /Hr.   Was this meeting worth it?

Use this calculation to help eliminate useless meetings from your schedule and to negotiate yourself out of them with your supervisors if possible (sometimes this discussion can lead to the transformation of a useless meeting into a useful one).

  • Establish a policy of providing a meeting agenda with each invitation:  – This simple step helps to reinforce the policy of hosting only purposeful meetings.  This discipline also has the beneficial effect of reducing the number of meetings in total as well.  Having difficulty preparing an agenda for a meeting is the first sign that it might not be important enough to schedule.
  • Less is more: When conducting a meeting where decisions are needed – think, what are the fewest number of people we need to invite – then communicate to the rest of the team.  The more people that are in the room, the more opinions there will be and ultimately the more difficulty there will be to come to some consensus.  When key decisions are being made, feedback from a broader set of people and other important inputs should have been conducted earlier to provide the information that the final team needs to make a good and timely decision.
  • Watch behavior:   How many people are checking their cell phones, tablets or laptops during the meeting?   Did those people really need to be there?  A meeting that holds true value for the participants will also hold their attention.  If what you or others are doing on your computer during a meeting is more important than the meeting, perhaps you should have sent your regrets instead.  This behavior can also be a good indication that it is time to wrap things up (Not every meeting needs to occupy the entire time scheduled to it).
  • Watch your own behavior:  Finding yourself wanting to check your messages or put the final touches on your presentation might be signs that you are not spending your time appropriately.  You should be working on those things with all of your brain rather than attending this meeting.

Take home message
You can’t create time but you can prevent it from being wasted by establishing a meeting and communications policy that makes the most efficient use of everyone’s time.  If you are at an established company, use these tips to boost your own and your team’s productivity.  If you are at a startup, use these insights to make sure that you are getting every bit of value out of everyone’s time and effort as well as to establish the culture and habits that will keep your organization lean and mean as the company successfully grows.

Picture Credit:  JD Hancock via photopin cc

5 Easy Steps to Effective Brainstorming

By Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

Brainstorming is a little like crowdsourcing today, getting as many opinions and inputs from a group of people to solve an issue. When done poorly this turns into a creative waste if time.  But if done correctly, this can be a transformative force for change resulting in not only new ideas but actionable steps toward achieving your goal.

Step 1:
Create and send an agenda that clearly states what you expect to achieve and how the meeting will be conducted to participants.  The following is an example of what you should include:

Example Agenda for First Meeting:

  • This meeting will be to discuss how we will … (e.g. boost sales by 20%, solve technical problem A, identify the next killer application, etc.)
  • Introduction of issue – 5 min (You)
  • Brainstorming session – 40 min (All)
  • Identifying next steps and meeting wrap up – 15 min (You)

Note:  By sending out the goal of the brainstorming session prior to the meeting, the participants will have a chance to think about this on their own prior to the meeting which improves the quality of the ideas.

Step 2:
Start the meeting by writing the identified goal on a large piece of paper or in the center of a large whiteboard or PowerPoint slide and circle it. Be sure to let everyone know that the meeting minutes will be used to begin formulating an action plan and to set priorities for any follow-up brainstorming meetings (there should be at least one more) and that the final fifteen minutes of the meeting will be used to identify actions to be taken.

Step 3:
Lead the brainstorming session by asking for major areas that need to be considered. Write these topics around the central circled goal and circle them as well.  Then ask for what should be done at each of these focus areas by asking for 3 or more and for each of the sub-categories.  This should be linked to each of the subcategories.

Note:  Make sure that you ask someone else to take minutes for the meeting including the names of all attendees.  The meeting leader should be moderating the session, updating the figure on the board/screen and keeping the team on track and on time.

Network diagram after first brainstorming meeting showing concept relationships

Sample brainstorm meeting graphic after first meeting. Identified goal in center white circle, first level major areas in blue and second level details in yellow.

Step 4:
Take a picture of the diagrammed feedback from the brainstorming session and send this along with the meeting minutes to all participants.  Ask each of them to select the top 3 subcategories that they think would have the best chance of achieving the circled goal in the center of the figure.

Note:  This is a critical step since not everyone is comfortable speaking out in a group setting and this will allow you to get unbiased feedback from the quieter participants.

Step 5:
Take the top two or three highest priority sub-categories to use for a follow-up meeting to build the plan.  This meeting should only include those team members that will be important to completing the goals of each of the sub-categories identified from the first meeting.
This meeting will start with a slide with a subcategory on the top of each.  Under that will be each of the 3 or more actions that the team identified from the last meeting.

Example Agenda for Second Meeting:

  • This meeting will be to identify everything that needs to be done to achieve the goals in the subcategories we identified at our last meeting. – 5 min (You)
  • Cycle through each of the actions for categories and identify all tasks and actions that will need to be done to insure success. – 40 -45 min. (All)

Use the feedback from the second meeting to create a plan to solve the original problem.  Creating an actionable plan will insure that you and the team will get the most out of this exercise.

This method will allow a team leader to garner the best thinking from their team on a given issue while keeping this from devolving into a useless diversion.  By keeping the agendas clear and with the group and individual inputs to this exercise in place, you will be able to get better, more thorough input and ideas for moving things along.  By breaking this process into two meetings, you will get the widest number of opinions at the first one and end up with a focused and prioritized plan of action from the second one.

Network diagram showing connections between topic, tactics and tasks

Sample brainstorm meeting graphic after second meeting. Feedback from the first meeting indicated that Tech Support was the highest priority and this branch was selected for the second meeting. Identified goal in center white circle, first level major areas in blue and second level details in yellow. Actions needed to achieve the second level details (yellow) are shown in red.

Taking This to the Next Level
There are professional software tools to facilitate brainstorming. (Brainstorming Software Review) These tools make the visual diagramming process fast and easy  and often allow direct conversion of the ‘mind map’ to lists in Excel, Gantt charts and meeting notes.

Picture Credits: © Andrew Johnson | UpStart Life Sciences