How much time did you spend in meetings during the last week? Was your presence really necessary at each of these meetings? Why? What exactly did you bring to the table in each of these meetings?
In part 1 of this article, I pointed out that many meetings are ineffective and overlong because they lack focus, and thus tend to rake over issues that are best dealt with in a different meeting with a different focus. We learned that organizations could make better use of everyone’s time if they distinguished different types of meetings, focused on producing different types of outputs, and attended only by those people from the appropriate hierarchy levels who are necessary for that particular meeting. Last time I described five meeting types for you; here are five more. Structuring your meetings in this way can make them both more productive and more enjoyable.

6. Action Decision Meetings

Action Decision Meetings are decision-only meetings where a group of people with the authority to make decisions approve or reject a proposed course of action, be it the approval of a large credit exposure by a credit committee, or the sponsorship of a new idea developed by an innovation project team. It’s best to wait to call an Action Decision Meeting until you have at least a half-day’s decisions to be made. Prepare and distribute decision-relevant information 1 or 2 days ahead of the meeting, and specify the decision-making process (e.g., single majority, qualified majority, unanimous decision, etc.). During the meeting, take each action proposal in turn, and make that decision before moving on to the next.

Tip: One suggestion from ?WhatIf! is that each decision maker can only respond to the decision question with “Yes” or “No”. This encourages people to closely review the agenda ahead of time and talk with each other to build respective coalitions ahead of the decision.

7. Action Update Meetings

Action Update Meetings are periodic project team meetings, typically about an hour long, where each team member updates the others on their activities and results. This allows team members to learn from each other, helps to create momentum, and encourages everyone to make progress so they have good things to report in the meeting. Action Update Meetings are opportunities for sharing information, so make sure that everyone does their homework ahead of time. Any longer follow-up discussion should take place after the meeting. Action Update Meetings typically lead to a list of follow-up action items.

Tip: Schedule Action Update Meetings at regular time intervals (e.g., a sales pipeline review meeting with all salespeople every fortnight, or a weekly project status review meeting in an IT implementation project) to maintain momentum and enforce discipline among the team members so they move towards, and contribute to, the desired results.

8. Ad-hoc Action Meetings

Ad-hoc Action Meetings are brief, spontaneous get-togethers of a project team, called by the team leader to give an urgent update or to jointly resolve an important issue in a short period of time. These meetings typically last 10–30 minutes. To keep these meetings brief, make everyone stand during the meeting. This also helps keep people alert and active, and sends the message that this is only a brief interruption in the day’s work. Ad-hoc Action Meetings are often used to produce ideas (using Brainstorming) and consensus on how to deal with an urgent issue, and the joint problem-resolution process helps to create team engagement and alignment.

Tip: Probably the best venue for calling an Ad-Hoc Action Meeting is the office break room or coffee corner. At my company, we sometimes hold our Ad-hoc Action Meetings outside so our smoking colleagues can have a cigarette while contributing ideas and opinions on the urgent action issue.

9. ”Decide first, debate later” Meetings

A special type of decision-only meeting is a “Decide first, debate later” Meeting. In this sort of meeting, you start by asking the group to decide on each action item, without any debate. This culls items on which there is consensus, leaving only those where there are significant differences of opinion. In a list of 10 action items, you will typically find that 7 or 8 need no further discussion, giving more time to debate the 2 or 3 issues where the group dissents. Moreover, achieving group consensus on most issues early on creates the environment for a more constructive, consensual debate on the more controversial agenda items. As a result, a higher number of action decisions can be made within the given meeting time.

Tip: Before the initial decision round, state that no initial decision is final and can be revisited during the meeting. This will make group members feel more comfortable with this approach.

10. Reversed Agenda Meetings

Reversal is a key creative strategy, where you turn things on their head and engage in upside-down thinking. In a Reversed Agenda Meeting, turn your list of agenda items on its head, and start with the least important ones, leaving the most important until the end. The objective is to quickly settle minor issues and get them off the table before discussing the more important topics. This helps because in “normal agenda” meetings, the top agenda items take up all of the meeting time, meaning that items at the end of the agenda never get discussed. Moreover, this approach allows you to start your meeting on time even if some group members are still absent or on the way.

Tip: Set a strict time limit (e.g., of 15 minutes in a 90 minute meeting) for clearing away the less important agenda items. This helps establish a fast working pace, and avoids running out of time for dealing with the more important items.


© Dr. Detlef Reis / Thinkergy Limited 2013.
This article is also published in parallel in the Bangkok Post on August 1, 2013.