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Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Begin with the end in mind

During last week's Category Management workshop we discussed how to ensure we start meetings/workshops, and our day, in the appropriate state of mind to achieve the objectives for the session.

All to often we rush from one meeting to the next, grab a coffee, answer a few emails and start the session distracted, and already thinking about the next meeting.

With all this rushing about and busyness the challenge is we're not always in a state of mind, body and emotions that is conducive to an effective and efficient meeting.

The solution is so simple it's often seen as common sense, and therefore ignored, with assumptions being made that "we're already doing all this", or "we don't have time to do it right so let's just get on with the meeting before we waste any more time!" or even worse thinking "I'm ok so everyone else must be too!"

There's so much we can do to ensure we shift into a resourceful state at the start of the meeting and this can include:

Looking after our well-being
  • Ensuring we're appropriately fed and watered (dehydration can hinder thinking - so too grumbling stomachs or too much caffeine or sugar) 
  • Ensure room temperature and ventilation is at appropriate levels (such an easy thing to get wrong and can be the source of much distraction)
  • Having had some quiet time during the day (because otherwise you will be trying to do too many things in the meeting rather than pay attention)
  • Ensuring regular breaks are taken
  • Taking responsibility for our body posture (because a tense body leads to tense thinking)
Clarity of objective
  • Agreeing the outcome needed
  • Agreeing the process to be used to achieve this - this may be achieved via an agenda
  • Agreeing timings
  • Agreeing roles and responsibilities 
Agreeing how to minimise distractions 
  • Taking time to write down what you're thinking/worrying about to pick it back up at the end of the meeting (childlike perhaps and an effective tools for compartmentalising the meeting for our brain, and therefore metaphorically leaving everything else at the door)
  • Closing emails on laptops/phones
  • Having a car park for unrelated issues to discuss at a later time
  • Having a red/yellow card to use for rabbit holes
Agreeing what won't help the meeting achieve it's objectives
  • Talking about unrelated topics
  • Gossiping (I may write a blog on this as it's interesting how often we can fall back into behaviour that could be described as gossiping)
  • Talking over others
  • Repeating past grievances
  • and so on
What behaviours are agreed as unacceptable will be culturally specific - for example the acceptable level of, and vocality of disagreement could be very different between different teams/countries. I know from recent experiences in the Netherlands and Finland that both find a less direct approach very frustrating.

Agreeing what will help you achieve the objectives
  • Reminding ourselves what state of mind and body will be most appropriate - for example if creative thinking is required how can you do something that will inspire that type of thinking. Sitting around the same table in the same building may not do that - whilst going for a walk outside might! Or perhaps get the Creative Whack Pack out.
  • Common suggestions for helpful behaviours include: respect, courage to speak up, receptivity, openness, honesty and so on.
  • I sometimes use cards (see pictures above or below) by way of a discussion about what is needed for the session. Years after I'd left full time employment the team I used to work with still used these cards to start meetings - that is they'd found it was a useful way to keep meetings on track - and not just a peculiarity or foible of my meetings :-)
Starting by being in rapport with each other
  • Starting by focussing on what everyone agrees on, and has in common with each other - it may be the current situation, the problems, the need to find a solution (see this blog for more on rapport)
  • Doing something together - the obvious - having a drink, introductions, sharing updates etc
  • Doing something together - not for everyone - mindful breathing, showing appreciation ;-) 
I know much of the above is common sense but a reminder of these best practices at the start of a meeting ensures they are fresh in people's minds. 

Rather than repeat the above lists at every meeting you may just want to start the meeting with:
  • What Worked Well - at the last or other meetings
  • Even Better If - from previous or other meetings
That is have a discussion about how you all want the meeting to be conducted - this will enable you to discuss positive behaviours it's easy to forget about, and less than positive behaviours its easy to let back in. Remembering that bad habits, as well as good habits, can find their way into unconscious competence/incompetence.

I'd love to read your suggestions on how you ensure everyone gets the most from their attendance of a meeting, and how you ensure objectives are achieved.

For more about the content of the training last week do see yesterday's blog on "I've written a blog on that".

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