*** HBR ***
Let's move on the
HBR stuff. It's always interesting. I will try to start from the oldest stuff
and work forwards to see if we can detect any evolution in approach.
The first HRB
article is from 1969 and was written by Prince: "How to be a better
meeting chairman." It leads off with a great quote: "Robert's Rules of Order provide a canon of
regulations and procedures that can be applied to any meeting, but in the
context of the intimate, creative 'think' session that has become an important part of the management
process in the present-day business world, they may be more than a little
typically draws on groups of seven or fewer since seven is "the maximum
number of people that can work together productively in a meeting." These
types of meetings have four key challenges:
- Objectives are vague, even if
there is an agenda.
- Meeting chairs might
- Chair prejudices may limit
conversation or problem-solving.
- Meetings have a high level of
fixing these issues include:
- The rotating chair
- Stating the problem -- that
is get the statement written down
- Temporary shelving i.e., the
- Spectrum policy -- people
have to provide a spectrum of responses including both positive and
- Restate (and operationalize)
the problem. This is kind of like a five whys exercise.
- Vacation time -- take a
specific break from the problem to explore something completely different
(e.g., Give me a striking image from the world of weather? A thunderhead.
Why is it dangerous? Etc.)
- Toward the solution -- return
to the list from the vacation and use it to inform discussion on one of
the problem statements
- Rotate the chair during a
- Leadership principles:
- Never compete with the
- Don't permit anyone to be
put on the defensive
- Use every group member
- Keep the energy high
- Keep the members informed of
where they are in the process
- Keep your eye on the expert
- Don't manipulate the group
Roger A. Golde gives
us an article from 1972: "Are your meetings like this one?"
The article notes
that managers spend up to 50% of their time in meetings. It discusses a case…
but it doesn't give us much that is tactical.
Anthony Jay's 1976
article seems to be more on point: "How to run a meeting." Here's a
great many meetings waste a great deal of everyone's time and seem to be held
for historical rather than practical reasons; many long-established committees
are little more than memorials to dead problems."
So, what are the
purposes of a meeting:
- They define a team, group, or
- They enable a group to
revise, update, and to what it collectively knows.
- They enable individuals to
understand the aim and goals of the group
- They create a commitment in
- They enable a manager to lead, not just be reported to
- They are "status
arenas" to establish hierarchies
The author gives us
a size grading for meetings:
- Assemblies with 100 or more people who
- Councils with 40 or 50 people who
mostly listen and occasionally contribute
- Committees with up to 10 -- at most 12 -- who speak
on equal footing under the guidance of the chair. Most meetings are of
this type ("the bulk of the 11 billion meetings" that take place
in the US every day)
There are also
different types of meetings:
- Frequency -- daily, weekly, monthly,
ad hoc, irregular, quarterly, etc.
- Composition -- do participants work
together? Do they work in parallel? Or are they strangers?
- Motivation -- do participants have a
process -- how
to participants come to consensus and make decisions?
In general, there
are a few different general knds of meetings:
people with common objectives that make decisions by general agreement.
- Weekly or
for people on parallel projects where there is some competition and where
the chair will likely make decisions
occasional, or "special project" meetings for people who have little
relationship except for the project promoted by the meeting. Every member
essentially has a veto.
- Before the meeting
- Define the objective. Every
item on the agenda can fall into one of the following categories:
People need to be informed of something important.
Management wants input and ideas.
- Executive responsibilities.
Management wants people to take responsibility.
- Legislative framework.
Ratification of policies, procedures, etc.
- Making preparations.
- People. Who should attend?
No more than 12. It might be necessary to have multiple meetings.
- Papers. The agenda should
have enough information that participants can prepare some views and
opinions ahead of the meeting. Consider marking each item "for
information" or "for discussion" or "for
decision." Also consider supporting documents and the order of the
- Early part of the meeting.
Lively and creative. Good for items of broad interest and concern.
- Start with items that
- Don't dwell on the
"trivial but urgent" items.
- Meetings break down after
two hours. Ninety minutes is best.
- If meetings go long,
schedule them before lunch or the end of the day to establish an end
- Supporting documents
should be brief.
- Chair's job.
- Focus on the achievements
of the meeting.
- Minimize contributions in constructive-originative meetings.
- Chairs must develop skills
for moving the meeting along: leaning forward, staring at the speaker,
raising eyebrows, etc.
- Two types of leadership:
"team" or "social" leader; and "task" or
- Structure the discussion:
- What is the topic?
- What is our objective?
- What is the challenge?
- For how long has this
- Can we explore the causes
for the challenge?
- Can we provide a
- Can we provide a treatment
- Conducting the meeting:
- Deal with the subject (as
above). The chair might have to establish a working group or terminate
the discussion if it is unproductive.
- Deal with the people.
Punctuality is important so list late comers in the minutes. Consider
seating arrangements. Control the garrulous and encourage the silent.
Protect the weak. Encourage ideas and innovation. Don't quash
suggestions. Close with an achievement.
- Following the meeting:
- Send minutes with time,
date, location, chair; names of all present; all agenda items and
decisions reached; assignment responsibilities; time meeting ended; data
and time of next meeting
The next selection
is a little bit more modern. Paul Lovett wrote "Meetings that work: plans
bosses can approve" in 1988. The point of this article is really to
demonstrate that the meeting is more important that the plan. Specifically,
managers need to use a meeting to get a plan approved. They have to answer the
- What is the plan?
- Terse statement
followed by a list of actions.
- Why is the plan recommended?
- Get support: rate
of return, ROI, etc.
- What are the goals?
- Focus on the unit
of measure, not numerical values
- Use a chart to compare as-is
- Consider a list of
- How much will it cost to
- Address capital
costs, operational costs , and HR costs
We then jump forward
in time to 2003 with "The board's missing link" by Montgomery and
Kaufman. This article is basically about the interaction between shareholders,
boards, and executives. Interesting, but irrelevant for what I need.
Michael Mankins gave
us "Stop wasting valuable time" in 2004. He reports on a study
conducted by EIU and Marakon on executive perceptions. In short:
- Executives spend 21 hours a
month in leadership team meetings
- Agenda setting is unfocused
and undisciplined. In most cases, the agenda is recurring or it is ad hoc.
Meetings are often crisis-driven. Less than 5% of respondents reported
"rigorous and disciplined" process.
- Little attention is paid to
- Most meetings aren't
structured for decisions. They're built for "information
sharing" or "group discussion."
- Deal with operations separate
from strategy. Use different meetings.
- Focus on decisions, not
discussions. Distribute information early using standard templates. The
cover sheet should articulate why you're asking someone to read something:
for information, for discussion and debate, or for decision making.
- Measure the real value of
- Get issues off the agenda as
quickly as possible.
- Put real choices on the
table. Present a variety of options for a problem (at least three).
- Adopt common decision-making
processes and standards.
- Make decisions stick. Use
Birkinshaw and Cohen
gives us a 2013 article called "Make time for the work that matters."
They note that knowledge workers spend 41% of their time on "discretionary
activities that offer little personal satisfaction and could be handled competently
by others." They offer a solution: "Knowledge workers can make
themselves more productive by thinking consciously about how they spend their
time; deciding which tasks matter most to them and their organisations; and
dropping or creatively outsourcing the rest."
There are ways of
outsourcing work or making things more efficient. For example, an initiative
may ban email on Fridays, limit the lengths of meetings, or ban internal
Assess tasks using a
basic survey. Rate each task on a scale of 1-4 on the following questions:
- How valuable is this activity
to the organization?
- It contributes significantly
to the overall objectives (4)
- It contributes in a small
- It has no impact, positive
or negative (2)
- It has a negative impact (1)
- To what extent could I let
- Essential. This takes top
- Important. I need to get
this done today (3)
- Discretionary. I'll let it
go if time allows (2)
- Unimportant. I can cut this
- How much personal value do I
get from doing it?
- Definitely keep. It's one of
the best parts of my job (5)
- Probably keep. I enjoy this
- Not sure. This task has good
and bad points (3)
- Probably drop. I find this
activity somewhat tiresome (2)
- Jettison. I dislike doing it
- To what extent could some
else do it on my behalf?
- Only I (or someone senior to
me) can handle it (5)
- This task is best done by me
because of my skills and responsibilities (4)
- If structured, this could be
handled by someone junior to me (3)
- This task could easily be
handled by a junior employee or outsourced (2)
- This task could be dropped
A score of less than
10 indicates that the task could be delegated or eliminated. Low value tasks
should be dropped, delegated, or redesigned.