Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Improve Your Focus and Improve Your Teams Performance in Meetings

Today I almost went batty in a meeting.  It wasn’t just me, but one of my colleagues almost went batty as well.  Why? There was disconnect on the type of information that we needed to get from participants.  Other participants were wandering from topic to topic and could not constrain themselves to find the core purpose of the dialog. I looked at my colleague and I saw the strain on his face was barely contained (he was trying to maintain a professional posture).  The person currently talking had gone down a bunny trail of technical details that sounded more like a R2-D2 beeping and chirping to C3PO.  The purpose of the meeting was to inform the product owner how to make a decision about a couple different features in the upcoming release. The talker had completely lost touch with the goal of the meeting. I held my hands and requested a pause from the stream of consciousness monologue.  I reminded the team of the meeting purpose and we began anew with a better context and refreshed understanding of our GOAL.

In layman’s terms the bad behavior described above is called lack of meeting focus.  FOCUS is the root of productive personal and collaborative efforts at work and at home.  FOCUS enables people to reach a new state of productivity that some call FLOW.  FOCUS in meetings enables all participants to police themselves and police others so the meeting can make rocket propelled progress toward the GOAL.

The GOAL of a meeting is really the key aspect of meeting planning.  It’s the core of a productive person’s arsenal against distraction, negativity, bias, closed mindedness and unimportant topics.

In my previous article, “Change Your Meetings and Change Your Life,” I introduced Better Meeting Magic, a way to change the culture and productivity of a team, department, division or company that embodies the spirit of collaboration, inclusiveness and focus.

The diagram below repeats the Better Meeting Magic flow. This article describes the “Planning” component in depth. In fact, I've already introduced the most important aspect of planning: DEFINING the GOAL. 

The Goal

As mentioned above the biggest factor in making a meeting productive is defining the outcome of the meeting.  In Stephen Covey’s seminal work, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, this is called “Habit 2 : Begin With the End In Mind.”  This powerful mechanism to challenges your brain to think about the outcome you would like.  Often a meeting is schedule because you know you need to talk about something that is blocking progress or causing friction or some collaborative decision needs to be made.  The meeting sponsor is often consumed with resolving the nagging issues, but sometimes neglects to define the core issue that must be decided before the meeting ends.

Tips for Setting a Goal: 

Tip #1: Make a goal for every meeting

When you create a meeting with your calendar application, stop before you send it and make sure the first line of the meeting description contains this line: “Goal: <fill in outcome here>”.
Force yourself to NEVER send another invite without a GOAL at the top of the calendar invite.

Tip #2: Keep your meeting goal concise

When you define the meeting Goal, make sure it has a measurable outcome.
You don’t need excess words in your life that don’t help you get to your destination.  You need explicit statements that guide the course of your meeting to a satisfying solution.

Tip #3: Make an artifact for every meeting

In the goal of your meeting, include the what artifact that you intend to create. You either want a “plan for marketing in a certain region" or a “vision statement for your department” or a “project plan with milestones for XYZ project”. 

Don’t sell yourself short and ask only for a “discussion”.  A discussion will always happen.  You want OUTCOMES.  ACTIONABLE steps.  Something that represents a DECISION or PLAN.   If you only have a discussion, you’ll have to meet again for a DECISION.  Don’t meet twice if you can meet just once.  In a later article, I’ll discuss other mechanisms to insure you manage your time and achieve your meeting goals.

Examples of good and bad meeting goals:

Good Goals:

“Goal: Discuss System Requirements for Project X and Create an Architecture Model.”

This is good because it has a specific outcome “Architectural Model.”  You might complete the meeting by finishing off a straw man architecture on a white board. Take a picture and e-mail the picture to everyone in the meeting.  GOAL ACHIEVED!

“Goal: Create an Actionable Marketing Plan for Product Y.”

This goal also has a specific outcome that you can measure, “Actionable Marketing Plan”.  You might end the meeting with a wall full of sticky notes that represent an ordered list of actions that the team will as execute.  You will take a picture of the wall, e-mail it to yourself.  Have your secretary transcribe it (or you can transcribe it) and send to everyone.  GOAL ACHIEVED!

Deficient Goal:

“Goal: Discuss the Needs of Customers in New York Region.”

While this may sound like a good goal, it does not end with an artifact.  In other words, what is the purpose of the discussion?  Do you want a sales plan?  Do you want to create a list of ideas? Do you want to create a demographic model? What is it that you want to ACHIEVE? A discussion can take place over lunch or over coffee or in the hall. You don’t want to waste time just discussing things, you really want to create something that can be instantly turned into a plan of action.

Let’s try again…

“Goal: Discuss the needs of Customers in New York Region and Create a List of the 10 Biggest Opportunities for 2016."

Now the discussion has a purpose.  It’s not a wandering meeting anymore.  The disciple of setting a GOAL is TOUGH.  This will challenge you to think a little deeper. You will spend a minute or two or three, but you will save many many minutes of people’s time and your own because you have a purpose in the discussion and everyone is now aware of that purpose.

If you know the end from the beginning, you’ll be a long way toward achieving your goals in a meeting.  It really only takes a couple moments to breath deep and put down your desired outcome.  Give this a try and see how it works to keep your meetings a little more FOCUSED.

When you think about creating a meeting, what things do you dread the most about conducting it?  Write me a comment and let me know.