Which meetings should I attend?

Are you constantly running short on time?  How many meetings did you attend last week?  Were they productive?  How much did they actually cost your organization?  Were you able to measure the return on investment?

In 2004, I moved to the U.S from Australia after accepting a VP role for an organization that was growing globally and, as a result, experiencing new challenges.  While I was looking forward to this new challenge, nothing had prepared me for the number of meetings I was expected to attend, or how many people believed that they also needed to attend!

I found myself attending endless meetings and going away from them frustrated and annoyed because it appeared we didn’t have the right people in the room—those who had the authority to make decisions, and others whom we depended on for their support to see them implemented. If we didn’t have their buy-in, we ran the risk of seeing them derail what had been decided.

After reading Patrick Lencioni’s, Death by Meeting, I decided to conduct an audit of all of the meetings I was asked to attend, expected to attend, or where someone from my department was required to be.[1]  In some cases, more than one person from the same department was asked to attend.

I included vertical meetings that were initiated from higher in the leadership chain as well as down the chain when staff wanted me to be there so they could get a decision.  Horizontal meetings were also included.  These meetings required cross-functional representation or where buy-in was needed from other departmental leaders.

What was even more revealing to me than the actual cost of conducting all of these meetings, was the reality that many of them ended with no clear result or tangible outcome. It didn’t take me long to realize that this was reflective of larger, systemic issues in the organization’s culture.

Dr. Adizes argues the need for “CAPI” to be present at meetings if effective outcomes are to be achieved, and if you don’t want to waste time and resources.  Essentially, CAPI is the coalescence of (A) authority, (P) power and (I) influence.

If the purpose of a meeting is to see a decision made, then it is critical to have a person in the room that has the authority or the legal right to make that decision.  That person must be able to say “yes”, “no”, or “wait”.

However, we also know it’s not good enough for meetings to merely include someone with the authority to make a decision.  We’ve all attended meetings and been frustrated by seeing good decisions thwarted by others who have the ability to withhold their cooperation or that of their team.  Adizes describes this ability as “the power to punish or reward.”

Finally, there is the need to have someone at the meeting who has the ability to influence or convince others to do something without having to use authority or power. Primarily, this person doesn’t have to be in a position of authority to influence people. Dr. Adizes refers to these people as ‘Integrators’ or ‘Influencers’.

What’s the bottom-line?

We know there are many factors that can make it difficult for leaders and organizations to always achieve win-win scenarios, but it is possible to increase the probability of achieving them by holding more productive meetings.  To achieve this:

The people who together comprise an organization’s CAPI must develop mutual trust and a vision of a win-win future… They must believe that they will benefit from the long-term win-win, even if there is a win-lose in the short-run. Unless the various constituencies develop a mutual trust, the short-run conflict of interest will dominate behavior and impede the efficiency of implementation.[2]

For the record, I implemented a new system of meetings for my department that improved communication, increased productivity, and gave us back a lot more time to do the work rather than discuss the work.

Immediate results were experienced…and even enjoyed!

 

[1] Patrick Lencioni, Death by Meeting (San Francisco: Jossy-Bass), 2004.

[2] Dr. Ichak Adizes, Managing Corporate Lifecycles (Santa Barbara: Adizes Institute Publications, 2004), 267.

10 Comments

Scott Lutz

Great post Glenn. I think the single most important element for me that has yielded more productive meetings is for the organizer to be explicit about what goal of the meeting is (a decision? identify options?, etc) and what attendees show be prepared to do, bring, ponder, that is going to fulfill the meeting outcome.

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Glenn

Agreed Scott. Understanding the purpose of the meeting is extremely important. For example, if there is a need for wider consultation to inform the ultimate decision, then you may have different people attending (typically subject-matter experts) than you do when you are getting closer to a decision.

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Glenn

The key is, as you say Yvette, productivity. I also like the way you introduce ‘motivation’ into the mix. If there’s no productivity, motivation quickly declines, and no amount of meetings can make up for it.

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Dana A. Dunmyer

Just what the doctor ordered! I just witnessed a recent invoice to one of our clients that included 41 hours of meetings (at the client’s request) for a small project slated for only 135 hours of total time. This was a Fortune 100 client. Businesses need to get a grip. What justifies the expenditures of time, money and manpower? It seems businesses have great need to understand the value (or lack thereof) of meetings. Thanks for highlighting this. I’m passing this on so my employees are not tempted to replicate this error.

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Glenn

Perhaps Dana, we need to have internal departments introduce billable hours for all of their meetings which need to be funded from their own respective budgets. That might get their attention!

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Dana A. Dunmyer

Great idea! Thanks. Perhaps an incentive for bonus could be considered minus meeting times… SO instead of it coming from my personal pocket (as company owner), it would come from theirs. Life really needs to get back to the basics of what justifies an expenditure… Does it cost you money or is it an investment for ROI?

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Glenn

It does come down to economics. Is it purely an outgoing expense, or is there going to be a return on the investment? A critical question, not only for the business owner doing the work (and has limited resources or capacity that has to be paid for), but from the perspective of the client who is paying for the work to be done. I’ve never come across a customer who doesn’t like seeing value for money!

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David

Totally love and agree with this post – Death by Meeting is real, and it cannot be ignored. The other travesty I’ve felt is when decisions are made — but no responsible party for execution is tapped, no action plan is confirmed, and no deadlines are agreed upon. Those simple expectations can tank even a CAPI-supported decision!

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Glenn

Agreed David. Being able to execute a decision made in a meeting is vital. I find it helpful to focus on the three ‘P’s of Purpose, Process, and Priority. Understanding the prevailing purpose of the meeting; introducing a healthy process by having the right people in the room; and assigning the best person to give the agreed action making it a priority.

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