Why meetings are a waste of time (and how to fix it)

Six steps to transform leadership meetings from talking shops to opportunities for change. 

waste of time

Management and board meetings are a fact of life. A recent study by the London School of Economics and Harvard Business School found leaders spend a third of their team in meetings. They can either be valuable milestones to build the team, share information and make decisions. Or, as one of my client’s once put it: “A life-sucking waste of my time!” The stakes are high. The clock is ticking on those chunky salaries if meetings are not adding value. Here are six steps to get it right:

  1. Explicitly Value Working Together: In some cases the perceived worth of exploring issues and making key decisions as a management team has plummeted. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. No preparation is done. People turn up late, if at all. Often, the meeting gets cancelled at the last moment. When it finally gets started its unfocussed and lacking in energy and inspiration. The power for breaking this vicious circle sits with the leader. He or she needs to clearly signal the Rules of Engagement have changed.
  2. Agree Rules of Engagement: Ask: “How do we need to behave in order to make this meeting the best use of our time?” Agree some clear, non-negotiable rules. When I’ve encouraged clients to do this in the past it’s resulted in common sense principles such as: turn up on time, be open and honest with each other, seek to understand before responding, speak to the point, show respect, encourage full participation and accept no distractions (those nagging phone calls and emails!). When people break these rules, speak up. Self policing works.
  3. Set Clear Objectives: Is this a “Decisions-and-Actions” meeting, where the objective is to converge on a way forward? Or, a “Dreaming-Together” session where free-wheeling creativity aims to produce new thinking? Both are valid. But they’ll have a different process, style and feel. Establish the type of gathering you need. Create a clear agenda. Identify the best possible outcome. Get started.
  4. Guarantee Engagement. The whole point of a management team is one person can’t do it all! Increase participation and engagement by assigning roles to discussion leaders, having multiple presenters, and asking open-ended (rather than yes-or-no) questions.
  5. Show Leadership: Many of the innovative, people-focussed businesses I work with have an informal, non-hierarchical culture. That’s great! Listening to all sides of the argument and empowering people is important. But let’s be clear: someone needs to fairly and firmly guide a meeting. If consensus can’t be reached it’s not an excuse to duck tough decisions. People don’t expect democracy in a business – and there’s nothing more frustrating for a team than a leader who won’t lead.
  6. Follow Up: At the end of the meeting agree a list of who is responsible for each next action – and when it’s due. Hold people accountable the next time you get together. Meetings get a reputation as pointless talking shops if they don’t result in progress outside the room.

Copyright © 2013 Greg Orme All Rights Reserved

Don’t Be A Crash Test Dummy – Please Ensure Your Culture and Strategy Are Fastened Securely

In brief: Four insights into organisational culture followed by three leadership tips to ensure you reach your destination – rather than repeatedly crashing your business dreams. 

A common response to the global downturn is: “we need a new strategy”! But there’s a problem.

New strategy = new structures and processes.

New structures and processes = new behaviours.

How people behave on a day-to-day basis is where strategy collides with culture. The new strategy gains impetus from engaged staff – or is bought to the sort of shuddering halt normally experienced by a crash test dummy.

Four Insights into Organisational Culture

1. What’s culture?

Culture is the water in the fish tank. It’s everywhere you look. And, if you’ve worked in a business long enough, virtually invisible . It’s “the way things get done around here”: values, language, symbols, stories, beliefs and habits – everything from the organisation chart to the bonus system, accepted behaviour in meetings to parking spot allocations. Like fish tank water, it needs regular attention to stay fresh – and to avoid the growth of green slime!

2. Why’s it important?

Culture is important because it’s the way people learn how to behave. Crucially, it’s stronger than any new, whizz-bang strategy.

3. Is there a “right” or “wrong” culture?

What is your business trying to achieve? The culture at a creative agency like Saatchi & Saatchi is different from the culture required to deliver Sainsbury’s success in retailing. Both vary from the “lone-wolves-together” culture at a newspaper or on a trading floor. The best test is: “Does this culture help us to achieve our objectives?” Culture is not right or wrong, but appropriate or inappropriate.

4. What’s the role of leadership?  

Cultures can go rotten without clear leadership. Relationship-focussed cultures become highly politicised. Task-focussed, performance cultures become harsh, uncaring – and even amoral. Great examples: the Barclays LIBOR-rigging scandal, the role of banks in the global financial crash – and don’t forget Enron. Leaders keep the water clean.

Three Tips for Leading Culture 

Here’s what you can focus on increase your effectiveness.

1. Take time to fully understand your culture

Cultures differ on the focus they put upon maintaining relationships versus achieving goals. Understanding where your culture is on this spectrum requires close observation of the physical environment, the way people spend their time and how they communicate. (PS, you can also use analysis tools to try to quantify what can be viewed as “fluffy stuff best left to HR”).

2. If you simply want to manage the culture – learn to swim with the current

Aligning your style to the prevailing culture is a powerful way to stack the deck in your favour. This might be about taking the time to get to know people within a relationship-based culture. Or, it might be about developing clear goals in a focussed, high-performance culture.

3. If you want to lead change in the culture be prepared for a tricky job – that starts with you

Good management swims with the prevailing cultural currents. But a leader’s job is to constantly evaluate what might need to change to make things better. Put another way: “Do we need to change the water?”

Changing a culture is possible. But it effects the beliefs and behaviours of everyone so it takes time, energy and focus. If you want to change a culture, lead from the front. Don’t simply mandate new behaviours, demonstrate them. Every day.

Summary

Whether you are changing a culture – or just ensuring it works – Oscar Wilde was right: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” It’s true for organisations, as with people. There isn’t one “good” culture we should all aspire too.

But on thing’s for sure. Whatever your unique situation, culture needs to wrap around strategy like a well-designed seatbelt.

Copyright © 2012 Greg Orme All Rights Reserved

Are Your Bad Habits Holding You Back From The Board?

5 Behaviours You May Have To Address To Be Promoted.  

In my work as a leadership consultant I occasionally work with senior executives who’ve stalled just below board level – or sometimes just short of the CEO’s hot seat. This isn’t normally because they’re lacking in intelligence, experience or drive. It’s often because they’ve failed to develop the values required of a true leader.

They need to unlearn some of the “me-centred” and competitive behaviours that, paradoxically, have propelled them up the ranks in the first place. As former General Electric CEO Jack Welch said: “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” Here are five workplace habits you might need to become aware of to take the next step in your leadership journey:

1. Always Being The Star

You are watching a movie of your own life. Part of developing your leadership ability is to realise a successful management meeting is one in which others are allowed to star, as well as you. Building the capabilities and confidence of those reporting into you is the hallmark of a good leader. When you become an orchestra conductor you stop playing the notes. When you become the team coach you stop kicking the ball. Instead, you create a situation where people play harmoniously, and in synch, based on your lead.

2. Telling, Not Asking

The empowerment of others starts with active listening. The ability to patiently use open questions (questions that elicit  explanation rather than “yes” or “no”),  to help people to find the answer for themselves, has a transformational impact.

3. Playing Judge and Jury

You learn an enormous amount in your career. You often know, or think you know, the answer to most of the questions that crop up. But, paradoxically good leaders often display notable humility. They’re prepared to hear people out before they pass judgement or offer their own opinion.

4. Ducking Responsibility

A leader doesn’t make excuses for poor behaviour by trotting out the lame excuse “that’s just me!” They realise leadership is about making conscious choices about how you respond to what work throws at you. Let’s face it. There’ll always be cock ups and irritating clients or colleagues. Leadership starts with the conscious choice of how you proactively respond to people and events. Leaders take full responsibility for their words and deeds.

5. Forgetting to Say Sorry

This may sound like leadership is some unattainable nirvana for people with super-human self control. Untrue. Most people like leaders to be as flawed as the rest of us. The important thing is this. If you’ve displayed some of the anti-leadership behaviours above, apologise immediately. Being a leader doesn’t mean you never say sorry.

Copyright © 2012 Greg Orme All Rights Reserved