Wednesday, January 13, 2016

End a Meeting with The Confidence That Everyone Knows The Path Forward

Today I was in a meeting that was intended to be 15 minutes long.  It started late, about 6 minutes past the hour, and got off to a rocky start due to technical issues with conference software.  Many of the participants often get side tracked with deeply technical concerns or quandaries about corner cases.  In fact, I think it was probably about 20% focused on executing the project (the stuff I wanted) and 80% of the discussion was what-if scenarios or providing context for different meeting participants.

Interestingly, the meeting lasted about 25 minutes, and in percentages, the overage was about average for this group of very talented and highly responsible staff.  They have an incredible sense of ownership for their work and as a result, they want to know all the details of pretty much every decision. Especially when it comes to technical decisions that are near or directly inline with their sphere of influence.  Good folks.

Was this meeting wasteful? Perhaps.  But it was successful because I got a list of actions assigned to specific people and I scheduled a daily standup meeting to follow up and insure everything got done.  There was no ambiguity about what needed to happen or who was going to do it.  To me, leaving a meeting with zero or very little ambiguity is a sign of successful outcome.

When you terminate a meeting you need to put an end to ambiguity.  In Better Meeting Magic vocabulary this step is called CLOSING.  Read more about the whole Better Meeting Magic planning paradigm in the article, “Change Your Meetings and Change Your Life with Meeting Facilitation (aka Meeting Magic).”

Effective CLOSING removes three primary sources of ambiguity:

1) “What did we decide?” or “WHAT” ambiguity,

2) “Who will do it? or “WHO” ambiguity

3) “Will we discuss this again?” or “OPEN LOOP” ambiguity

Tip #1: Kill “WHAT” Ambiguity by Reiterating the Decision and Asking for Confirmation

Destroy ambiguity in every meeting by reiterating orally what you’ve decided to do and ask the participants to confirm the decision.  Example: At the end of the meeting you could say, “The goal of our meeting was to: ‘Decide on a database vendor’.  And I believe we’ve decided to move ahead with vendor XYZ to support our database infrastructure.  Did I capture that correctly?”

By reiterating the meeting goal and the decision, you will likely get the last minute ‘NO WAY’ or you’ll get everyone nodding their head.  If you have dissenting opinions, that’s good because you need to know where you stand before you leave the meeting with a false sense of doneness. If you have consensus, this decision is made and will likely stick.  

Tip #2: Annihilate “WHO” Ambiguity by Assign Actions to Specific People in the Meeting

Destroy “WHO” ambiguity by making sure you have a assignee on each action.  It's good to assign action in the meeting so the assignees can review the action and possibly ask clarifying questions before the team disperses.

This creates a more sticky sense of ownership.  A responsible assignee will try to understand the expectation through dialog.  An unwilling assignee will have the accountability of the group.

Add due dates to further eradicate ambiguity.

Tip #3: Short Circuit “OPEN LOOP” Ambiguity by Picking the Next Meeting Time Before You Leave the Current Meeting

Obliterate “OPEN LOOP” ambiguity by asking the participants whether the topic is closed or there are still more to address. As you develop skills in planning your meetings, you will likely see less carry-over meetings because your planning and time management will enable you to reach decision in a single meeting.

For details on good planning tactics, see the article, “Improve Your Focus and Improve Your Teams Performance in Meetings.” 

One of the most frustrating things in any business environment is to see good ideas die on the vine.  When everyone is busy and there are tough topics left unresolved, people feel weighed down and a natural response to “embrace the status quo”.  

In simple language, “embracing the status quo” is just failing to put enough energy into following up on the tough topics.  In reality it doesn’t require supreme amounts of energy to conduct a follow-up meeting, but the emotional resistance is high.  

When I’m heading for bed and I know I’ll be getting up early the next day to take a run in freezing cold weather I can prime myself for success by putting out my running clothes and running shoes on the floor of my bathroom.  Somehow this routine removes some of the friction of getting up early and taking a run.  

Use this priming strategy to overcome the “OPEN LOOP” ambiguity by making the next meeting plan during the current meeting.  

BTW, if you want to learn lots about how to deal with open loops in your personal and work life, read Getting Things Done by David Allen. His productivity strategy will help eradicate ambiguity in all corners of your world.

I’d like to know if you have applied any of these techniques.  Or perhaps you have some of your own.

Please write a comment about your best tools for overcoming meeting ambiguity.  

Or get in touch with me on my Contact page to talk about your latest meeting success.