Archive for November, 2008

The Secret to Running Great Meetings

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

A recent issue of the FORTUNE magazine carried a “Three Minute Manager” interview with three executives on the secrets of conducting great meetings. For executives running global corporations, I was a bit surprised to note that some of their answers lacked sensitivity to cultural nuances in different parts of the world whereas others belied the fundamental leadership trait of instilling a sense of belonging among employees.

So, even if I’m not in their pay grade (yet!), I thought of coming up with my own version! Here it is:

DIANE BRYANT CIO, Intel

PEGGY KLAUS Executive Coach and President, Klaus & Associates

SELF

SHOULD I WORRY ABOUT HAVING TOO MANY MEETINGS?

At Intel, the fact that we have a lot of meetings is not seen as a negative. Since we’re global, they’re critical for us, the key is making sure they are effective and efficient. We have a poster up in every conference room with guidelines. New hires take a class on meetings.

People are overwhelmed by the sheer number of meetings. I had one woman practically in  tears because she couldn’t get any work done between the hours of nine and five. Managers should question why they’re having a meeting in the first place.

Meetings can be a waste of time when they’re held to rehash what has been covered in previous emails – to me, that reeks of poor reading comprehension skills!

 

It’s worse still when people come to meetings and then say that they need to get back later by email!

 

 

WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO PREPARE?

Every meeting needs an agenda e-mailed out beforehand, even if it’s just with someone one on one. And we hold each other responsible. If someone doesn’t prepare and comes in with a half-baked idea, the meeting is often adjourned, and you come back when you’re ready.

First, ask yourself, do we need this meeting? And why? Then set some rules of participation. Lay down the law at the beginning of the meeting. Even if it takes five minutes, it saves time if people know that if someone goes off topic, the moderator can interrupt.

This depends on the purpose of the meeting.

 

If it’s a final meeting on a topic, everyone should come prepared for closure. But it’s okay to come to a brainstorming meeting with a fragment of idea that is not fully-formed.

 

Nonetheless, in all cases, the agenda and preparatory reading material (if any) must be pre-circulated in advance. Otherwise, lot of time gets wasted in exchanging documents rather than discussing them.

 

As far as possible, the meeting invite should include criteria for judging fruitfulness of the meeting.

 

 

HOW DO I FIGURE OUT WHO SHOULD BE IN THE ROOM?

You need people who are critical to making the decisions on the agenda, not people who are there only because they’ll be impacted. At Intel, if we see someone who doesn’t need to be there, people will say, “Bob, I don’t think we need you here. Thanks for coming.”

Depending on your culture, sometimes the final decision-maker will be angry if he’s not in the room. Others say, “Only come to me when you’ve got a recommendation to give.” Think about each person attending and ask, What can they contribute?

This is very much culture-dependent. Just as the decision maker could get angry for being left out, the rank-and-file can get the feeling that their leadership is not adequately involving them. This is especially true in knowledge-based industries like information technology where it can lead to de-motivation and morale problems.

 

Sometimes, in such cases, even anonymous / bystander participation works fine.

 

 

WHAT’S AN IDEAL LENGTH OF TIME FOR A MEETING?

Andy Grove used to say, “Why is it that when we book a meeting, it’s always for an hour or 30 minutes? Why not 43 minutes? Or 22?” We don’t book for 22 minutes, but we have a clear focus on duration, so it’s the time that’s needed, not the time that was booked.

The meeting itself should run no more than 60 or 90 minutes without giving people a break. Presenters should talk no more than 11 1/2 minutes, because people have short attention spans. Meetings run long when people haven’t prepared for them well.

Largely depends on the purpose of the meeting, partly on culture, but 30-60 minutes duration should cover the broad spectrum.

 

Key is to allow sufficient time for Q&A.

 

It’s important to be sensitive to the agenda and estimate a realistic duration. 

 

Underestimating time and overshooting a meeting is as avoidable as overbooking, since one meeting running late can lead to a cascading effect for the rest of the day. Sometimes, it can force the undeserved truncation of some other meeting.

 

 

 

Putting the Cart Before the Horse Does Work!

Monday, November 10th, 2008

During my vacation a couple of weeks ago, I was taken on a visit by an enthusiastic representative of an NGO called CTRD Trust to a  tribal village rehabilitated by the trust. Until a few months ago, this village, located at the foothills of the Nilgiris Hills around 50 kms west of Ooty, didn’t have electricity. 

 

Before the last state government elections, one of the parties had promised to gift a free TV to every underprivileged household in this village and everywhere else in the state. But, without electricity, the villagers wondered, how would the TVs work? Was this just one more election promise to be conveniently forgotten after the elections were over?

Ah, that was not to be!

After the elections, which the said party won, every household in this village did receive the promised free TV. And, lo and behold, the state’s electricity board (as state-owned power utilities are called in many states in India) actually “electrified” the village! So, the TVs did work — and still do! 

Appears that putting the cart before the horse does work sometimes!

Is this a lesson in rural development for emerging economies? Or, is there a larger lesson here that could even apply to other fields and elsewhere in the world?