Effectively running meetings is an important skill for business leaders, but much too often meetings can miss the mark.
A good meeting creates a space for important discussions to be had to get the right people on the same page in order to collect information, make decisions and strengthen relationships.
From the perspective of a busy startup entrepreneur or small business owner, understanding how to coordinate and maximise the utility of a meeting is extraordinarily valuable.
This blog post was inspired by a discussion during our last Leader’s Guide To Coordinating Action webinar series hosted by Leadership Coach Ian Lees. Working through the Coordinating action framework and communication loops, an interesting question was raised in how to apply these concepts to improve meetings.
We thought this was a valuable area to delve deeper into, as we recognise both the challenges and value of having meetings.
In this blog post, we talk further with Ian to gain some insight into actionable steps and strategies to making sure meetings are meaningful, successful, and something to look forward to.
Ian has a wealth of knowledge and experience working in and around large organisations, and further as a leadership coach, so by the end of this article we’re sure you’ll be a more effective meeting coordinator. So, let's get into it!
To kick us off Ian, can you please describe the co-ordinating action framework?
Great question. Basically, the coordinating action framework breaks down into three key pillars, two of consciousness, and one of action:
Pillar 1: Being conscious of the role of language
The first pillar is understanding that we coordinate action through language. What we speak generates what happens. When we use language to generate a specific action we call these Speech Acts. We call them Speech Acts to emphasize that they are intentional actions that aim to produce a specific result as a consequence of what we are saying. Applying this to organisations, and perceiving coordinating action through language as an intentional core business process means that we can better understand the importance of being conscious of our language. As business leaders, there is a power derived from this as we recognise the responsibility and importance of using language effectively.
Pillar 2: Being conscious of how we are using language to coordinate action
In the Leaders Guide to Coordinating Action workshop series, we introduce a framework called the coordination loop, which breaks down the process of effectively making requests.
Maintaining an awareness of where you are on the coordination loop and reflecting on the way you are using language to make requests can help a leader to grow and progress their intentional language skills, translating to improved ability coordinating action.
Pillar 3: Using language to get the outcomes we desire
It’s easy to be casual and loose in business. This could be due to many reasons, i.e. a relaxed working culture, lack of experience leading etc. However, securing real, solid commitments is a crucial step to accomplishing goals and realising outcomes for businesses. Failure to apply this with precision often translates to vague actions.
There are huge efficiency gains and improved opportunities for business growth that are available to business leaders who develop real precision in their language of coordinating action.
I’ve seen this personally in my own business, developing objectives and processes to be precise and outcome-oriented meant I had something to weigh myself against. I think applying this framework to a meeting scenario specifically could be extremely valuable.
As a leader, how should a meeting be considered, or approached?
It's important to have a relentless focus on outcomes.
The first thing to get clear on with yourself and others is “What is the outcome we want from this meeting or conversation?”.
There is a whole range of outcomes in business meetings. You can have conversations for problem-solving, conversations to make a decision, conversations for feedback and learning and conversations for design and conversations for strategy. All of these are different purposes. The important thing is to take those extra 2-3 minutes to get a clear answer to the question “What do we want to get from this meeting?”
Quite often meetings are actually about making a decision.
The next question is ‘who else needs to be in the meeting and why?” This question is predicated on the first and is really important to ask. If you don’t include an individual who needs to be present to close the coordination loop, then it’s impossible to move forward successfully. On the other hand, if the answer is no-one really, then just make the decision and communicate it without having a meeting.
What is the difference between an ineffective meeting and an effective meeting?
There are a whole lot of ways a meeting can be ineffective. Here are some of them, and what the opposite, productive version of the meeting is.
o Ineffective meetings have no clear decision or outcome: They feel directionless, pointless, unnecessary. Whereas an effective meeting will have a clear intention with the goal specified and understood by all parties attending, so everyone comes into the meeting on the same page and ready to achieve the outcome.
o They have no structured process for doing the work of the meeting: There is no clear agenda or planned sequence, meaning that it is then difficult to coordinate action and a significant amount of time wastage. The opposite of this is applying thought and consideration to structure in how the meeting will be conducted so that there is a clear set of steps and the next thing to move on to. At least having an informal agenda so that rather than getting stuck and losing focus there is a smooth process of addressing everything that needs to be addressed.
o They are often dominated by one voice (resulting in unfocussed rambling): They are unidirectional rather than a back and forth. This connects back to understanding the power of language and eliminates an opportunity to close the coordination loop in a considered way. The opposite is a meeting where the voices and perspectives of those involved in the decision or action are heard and considered. This allows for better negotiation and consideration of the outcomes and challenges, resulting in a succinct commitment to action.
What's the main reason for unproductive meetings?
The fundamental reason that meetings and group conversations are ineffective is because no-one is leading them from beginning to end. When you’re dealing with busy schedules and limited resources, it is unwise to put a bunch of people in a room and hope for the best. Often meetings are between peers, so leadership in this context refers to guiding the process. This “guiding” is a great example of coordinating action through language. We often refer to this as facilitation and it is a form of leadership in itself.
As the facilitator, you will set up the outcome and the process and lead the team through the process. In a way you are like a tour guide, allowing people to explore and discuss but you keep calling them back to the outcome and the process.
What are some of your top tips for leaders to better prepare and facilitate a meeting?
The truth is, facilitating a meeting and workplace conversation is an entire skillset itself. However, with careful consideration and reflection, it is certainly something which can be learned.
- Get crystal clear on the outcome you want from the meeting.
- Deciding on what needs to change, or what decision must be made by the end of the meeting.
- Plan the process of the meeting not just the content.
- As start-up entrepreneurs, we’re typically focussed on some niche area or component, so it’s easy for us to get caught up in the details. What you need to do is try to take a wider perspective and consciously focus on the general process while at the same maintaining that more detailed content focus you find so comfortable.
- Right at the start, clearly outline the purpose and the process to the other people coming into the meeting.
- state what it is you want to produce or decide by the end of the meeting. Identify who will be responsible for each aspect of the meeting (John will talk about the financials). Your job as the facilitator is to make sure that this process is followed.
- Strong and clear gate-keeping.
- This is the idea of making sure everyone gets to speak but is not speaking at the same time. Thinking of “Whose turn it is to speak?” or “Is everyone getting an opportunity?”.
- Maximise participation – if people are in the meeting then make sure the process of the meeting gives everyone the opportunity to both contribute and to decide.
- Recognising the personalities of the different people participating, and being consciously aware of those who are heavy contributors, and those who are more reserved. Directing the conversation with this awareness helps ensure everyone can have their say.
- Confirm and clarify all the way along.
- Making sure that you and all other attendants are on the same page through asking to add detail, and then making sure everyone is in agreement.
In this blog, we have covered off why it's important for leaders to effectively manage meetings, the difference between an effective and ineffective meeting and some time for running a productive meeting. As a leader, learning how to coordinate action is an essential skill. It's usually not something that comes naturally to a lot of people and mastering will not only help you to feel more confident and competent as a leader, and most importantly, it will drive better business outcomes.
Now that you have a better idea of what an effective meeting should achieve, observe your next meeting and start putting into practice some of the tips covered in this blog.
If you're interested in learning more on this topic, check out our Leaders Guide to Coordinating Action webinar series. You'll find more information below. You can also learn more about Ian Lees and his leadership coaching services by vising his Optimal Future website.
All the best!
Leaders Guide to Co-ordinating Action Programme
In the 'Leaders Guide to Coordinating Action' webinar programme, we introduce people to two really important and useful tools that can help business leaders improve how they coordinate action.
The first one is the Coordination Waste Assessment tool. This is a structured process you can complete by yourself or with your team to get a handle on just how much coordination waste is costing you and your business in time and money.
The second is the Coordination Flow model which sets out an easy to use flow to guide all your coordination conversations. The model includes eight essential speech acts that can dramatically reduce Coordination Waste and help to build trust and engagement in business relationships. By implementing this as a business process you can improve the efficiency of your business and build stronger partnership and customer relationships.
You can learn more about the ‘Leader’s Guide to Coordinating Action’ webinar series by clicking the button below. We’re proud to work with Ian to bring this knowledge to small businesses and startups. Learn more about Ian and his work by heading to the Optimal Future website.