Is Your Meeting Time Well Spent?
By Maureen Rhyne, Ph.D.
“Oh no, not another meeting! We already have so many, we can’t get anything done!”
In recently working with a client, this was the wearied statement I heard from a program director.
Does this sound familiar to you? In my work with clients, both in the for-profit and non- profit sectors, this is a frequent complaint I hear. I, too, have had to endure meetings that seem to go on far too long with nothing getting accomplished and have dreaded them.
When organizations are just getting started and are small, an informal process might be effective at that time depending on the focus and strength of the leader. As organizations grow in size and complexity, however, processes and procedures become an essential part of organizational direction, success and sustainability.
Recently, I asked the department head of a group I was working with to tell me about their meetings. Clearly, he was frustrated and did not see a solution. I asked if they had an agenda. “Yes,” he replied, “we have an agenda, however, we get derailed by urgent matters that require problem solving, so we never get to the agenda.” I asked if in retrospect these items were real emergencies requiring immediate attention. He replied, “No.” My response was, “How about putting a system in place where that will not happen?” He seemed very interested and perhaps you will be, too. Does the urgent take you away from important more strategic matters? This is a good question to ask yourself in general and in particular about your meetings. If you feel your meetings are a waste of time, perhaps you might consider how you conduct them.
At the NAWBO®-OC chapter last year, we tiered items that could best be handled by the Executive Committee, a smaller group that was charged with more operational issues and due diligence for financial and contract issues prior to making recommendations to the full board for approval. This process enabled us to deal with many significant issues in a relatively short period of time. In addition, we introduced a process where board members submitted a topic request form (TRF) to reserve time on the agenda. This form stated the topic, time required to address it, background and desired outcome. The president reviewed all TRFs and prioritized them based on time needed, other requests and topic relevance to our organization’s timeline. The agenda for each meeting was then distributed to the board prior to the meeting along with any documents they were expected to review and discuss at the meeting. In other words, order and expectations were established; board members were to prepare in advance items that needed to be discussed, be on time and be prepared for the meeting. As a result, our meetings became more productive and ended on time, and board members felt the time they spent at the meetings was time well spent.
This process works best when leadership cultivates a culture of synergy—thereby leveraging the work to the next level, respects and values the talents/expertise of each member and holds everyone accountable. Each person knows how their part fits into the big picture and that their contribution is vital to achieve a successful outcome. Teams will outperform silos any day!
Getting back to my client, I shared our recent NAWBO®-OC success story and how implementing these changes were a critical part of a very successful board year. While the type and structure of the organizations are very different, my client is curious and cautiously optimistic that incorporating these changes may result in fewer yet more productive meetings. And as their consultant and coach, I see some visible signs of readiness and willingness to try a different approach. Execution, of course, will determine the outcome.
Wishing you all fewer and more productive meetings!
Maureen Rhyne, Ph.D., is President of Heritage Associates, Inc. and NAWBO®-OC 2011-2012 President.