Wednesday 16 December 2015

Insight from the FRB Closure

Unless you live in Scotland you may be forgiven for not knowing that the Forth Road Bridge (FRB) has been closed. It was closed on 3rd December for at least a month for urgent repairs. This closure means diversions of over 30 miles, over single carriage way roads, resulting in lengthy delays for the 70k vehicles that use it daily - see more here.

Bus and train capacity has been increased, and police are out in force to ensure the multiple diversion routes are adhered to (Buses, HGV & LGV vehicles have been given the most direct route from 0500 to 2000 Monday to Friday).

Social Media is abuzz with information of diversion times, extra buses and sardine like trains - praise and complaint.

As someone who relies on the bridge, not least to get to Edinburgh airport (a normal 30 minute journey is now 90 minutes at best), I was pondering on the insights to be gleaned for procurement, and realise it's all about planning.

The sort of planning that procurement most often forgets to make time for too - especially for those more tactical, and less strategic departments where objectives and KPI's for procurement concentrate on price reduction, and ignore service provision, supplier management and value enhancement.

Planning such as:
  • Communication Planning
  • Contingency Planning
  • Exit Planning 
  • Transition Planning
For more on each of these see below:

Stakeholder Engagement and Communication Planning

Traffic Scotland have been very quick to engage with the public. Not only providing details of the diversions and other options (rail and bus) but also progress on the repair to the bridge. Normal road users are still frustrated but the information available has been excellent. Social media has certainly helped them to do that - with a huge Twitter presence supported by Facebook and more obvious channels such as the web site.

Insights to be gleaned:
  • Agree responsibility for communication - Traffic Scotland have taken the lead as "owners" of the trunk roads in Scotland which requires them to liaise closely with the bridge operator Amey who are undertaking the repair.
  • Ensure you have an up to date list of stakeholders - in this situation it's included: the police, drivers who normally drive over the bridge, local residents and businesses, road hauliers, visitors (especially those flying into Edinburgh airport), media (local and national), politicians and alternate providers of transport (Scot Rail and Stagecoach).
  • Complete a communication plan for each stakeholder - they won't all need the same information nor want it in the same way.
  • To avoid speculation, rumour and Chinese whispers keep stakeholders updated with the facts as they emerge.
Contingency planning

We had a very interesting breakout on contingency planning and exit planning on a recent supplier management workshop. I only wish I could have used the FRB as an example.

I'm sure many organisations got caught out due to the unforeseen nature of the closure, and therefore lack of contingency plans to refer to. For example I know Amazon, at the local distribution hub in Dunfermline, ended up paying temporary staff to tidy up the warehouse due to lack of product on the shelves when it first happened.

Insights to be gleaned:
  • Ensure you have contingency plans for key suppliers, and key categories  
  • Update the contingency plans regularly
  • Ensure roles and responsibilities are clear
  • Don't just concentrate on the 'likely to happen' risks, remember to consider the high impact, even if low likelihood, risks too 
  • Understand and review contingency plans your suppliers have in place
  • Know what you will do if supplier's contingency plans fail  
It's certainly easier to plan when not faced with immediate danger or threat. Your mind can't always access the most logical parts of itself when stressed - so much better therefore to plan when you're more relaxed, with full access to all of your brain and all the options and solutions.

Exit planning

I can imagine the call the person responsible for building the new Forth crossing had when the FRB closed. Apparently the new bridge build is under budget and on time for opening in Dec 2016, and I'm sure a call was made to ask "can you do it sooner?".

In this instance exit planning isn't too appropriate - however for many organisations moving to a new supplier might very well be an option when a supplier is unable to meet its contractual obligations.

Insights to be gleaned:
  • Ensure you have exit plans for all key suppliers, and key categories
  • Develop the exit plans with your suppliers
  • Update the exit plans regularly
  • Ensure roles and responsibilities are clear
  • Agree the circumstances these plans would be executed
It's certainly better to have taken time to plan ahead. Rather than try to develop exit strategies when the exit is needed immediately, or already started.

Transition planning

If recent documents are to believed then the fault with the bridge was known to the previous maintainer of the bridge in February. The question to be answered therefore is - was that information accurately passed on to the new maintainer in June.

As the bridge fault was very close to causing fatalities it's a horrifying reminder that transition planning isn't just one line on an action plan but requires much thought and planning:
  • What information needs to be transferred
  • How will the transfer be undertaken
  • How will the information's efficacy be checked 
  • What handover is required - will both parties spend time together in meetings, and shadowing activities (most often avoided due to the costs involved)
  • Who is responsible for what
I'd love to hear your thoughts on other insights procurement can take from the recent FRB closure, and any thoughts on my observations.

Alison Smith
Inspiring change inside and out

Tuesday 15 December 2015

A question for Tim Peake

See my post over on my Landscaping Your life blog inspired by BBC Radio 4 PM programme's request for questions for Tim Peake's, UK astronaut, first press conference from the International Space Station.

Q: "Standing in the shoes of the earth what advise would you have for its inhabitants?"

Monday 14 December 2015

Enablers for effective team working

I facilitated a session with a team last week that explored the many aspects of effective team working. Much of the content covered has been covered in blogs over recent years, and so I share here an index of those blogs.

As ever I'm reflecting on topics covered I'd like to write future blogs on:
  • Problem reversal - a great technique for problem solving.
  • Bolton and Bolton's people styles
Do also see recent indexes of blogs sharing the enablers for Category Management and Supplier Management. Again arising from recent workshops I've facilitated directly with clients, or via other procurement consultancies.

Alison Smith
Inspiring change inside and out (more here on why that's important)

Saturday 28 November 2015

Enablers for Supplier Management

When delivering category management or supplier management workshops I often find myself saying "I wrote a blog on that". Last month I provided an index of the blogs that I mentioned during a Category Management workshop. Today I'm sharing the blogs that refer to content covered in a recent 3 day Supplier Management workshop (and updated to support learning covered in subsequent sessions in 2016.)

As ever the blogs seem to concentrate on the enablers for effective working rather than the procurement tools and techniques covered in the workshop. And yes there's a degree of similarity in the index between Category Management and the Supplier Management workshops - not because the procurement tools were similar - but because soft skills, change management, communication, influencing and creativity are common enablers, and are all skills requiring development and use in all aspects of procurement activity. 

The Enablers (in no particular order - and I'm not expecting anyone to want to read every blog - just any that either pique your interest as you read the title - or for those who have attended the workshops - topics you wanted to explore further)
Some of the unconventional, yet effective, tools we used or spoke about
Supplier Management - because I do write some processey blogs
Future blogs that I would like to write following discussions during the workshop(s) include:
  • Problem reversal - a great technique for problem solving.
  • What's in a word - would relationship management be a better term than supplier relationship management? See picture for what we think the 3 different interpretations of 'supplier management' might be dependant on whether we're procurement, a supplier or an internal stakeholder. 
  • The language of stick and carrot - because we need to be consciously aware of which of these we're using.
  • The link between mind, body and emotions.
  • More on organisational and personal metaphors and the words we use for each (exploit, attach, fight, war, threat and enemy are words that work well for those operating a war like metaphor, but won't work with someone who operates a nature like metaphor for their life).
  • Use of pipe cleaners to solve problems!?!
For other more procurementy or businessy blogs I've written please see this index

I also mentioned a few of my rants during the session, and an index of all my rants can be found by following this link (The common theme seems to be the lack of humanity with which we often treat each other!)

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach 
Inspiring change inside and out (more here on why that's important)

Friday 20 November 2015

How attractive are you to suppliers?

In the majority of procurement literature, workshops and exams buyers are asked to consider the above 'supplier preferencing' model. It identifies 4 potential ways a supplier can 'view' the buying organisation. 

As with many business models it's value is delivered from the conversation that arises. A conversation that helps us understand how our suppliers, and we as the buying organisation, might relate to it. It involves the buyer considering:
  • How attractive they think they are to a supplier
  • How attractive they might really be - if they consider the behaviours they're experiencing from a supplier
  • What behaviours suppliers might consider to be attractive - remembering each supplier will be different 
The premise is: a supplier who sees your account as highly attractive, AND as contributing a larger share of their sales is likely to see your account as Core. With the same level of attractiveness, but smaller percentage of sales, it becomes an account they would like to Develop. The potential problems arise when an account isn't very attractive - with the resulting potential for either Exploitation or being treated as a Nuisance dependant on the relative value of the sales.

The main reason for using this model in workshops is to invite buyers to consider the behaviour they may be demonstrating that might be seen by a supplier as unattractive, and therefore is very likely to be contributing to less than helpful behaviours from the supplier. Or, if they aren't doing currently, might do so in the future. 

In no particular order the unhelpful buyer behaviours suppliers may see as unattractive include:
  • Squeezing profitability  
  • Late payment to agreed terms
  • Extending payment - see my rant on 'who owns payment terms' directed at CFO's who forget it's part of the contract that buyers agree with suppliers - ie not something Finance should alter at whim!
  • Always doing the opposite to what's been agreed
  • Changing minds, and expecting the supplier to pick up the impact re costs, timescales etc
  • Too many people involved - different people telling suppliers different, and contradictory things
  • Not being paid for extra costs - irrespective of the original agreement  (see point above)
  • Overly bureaucratic 
  • Lateness - for meetings, information, orders, feedback, changes and so on 
  • Using suppliers to benchmark prices, and having no intention of changing supplier
  • Inaccurate or limited forecasting
  • Difficult to work with - behaviourally or personally 
  • Arrogant 'you need us' behaviour and language (linked to the above point)
  • Bullying - see two related blogs on the subject Don't turn a blind eye  (to unacceptable business behaviours) and Are your supplier afraid to say no?
  • Disrespectful behaviour - see do your suppliers' sleep at night blog?
  • Unethical behaviour 
  • Continued lowest price focus - irrespective of potential for cost and value benefits
  • Lack of appreciation - so easy to forget that a Thank You is appreciated even if "they are getting paid for it". (Most buyers get paid for what they do and expect thank yous and recognition from their manager and those they work with - why think suppliers don't!)
Consideration is also given to what behaviours might be considered attractive - many of which are the opposite to the above.

Yes sales is attractive, but this model is asking buyers to consider what might detract from the value of the sales, and mean the buying organisation's needs are not as important to the supplier as we would like them to be.

I think the above model misses an additional strategy - and that is a supplier could simply walk away

It's a strategy a supplier has irrespective of turnover, but certainly something they're more likely to consider if the account is becoming increasingly unattractive. This is a point I often find myself disagreeing with other buyers and colleagues about - the assumption that any sale is better than none. I believe for every supplier there will be a point where the level of unattractiveness means a supplier will decide the best option is to walk away.

When sharing the model in workshops we often use the metaphor of personal relationships. With first dates, dating, marriage and divorce being mentioned. We've all known people who have stayed in a relationship well past its sell by date, and as a consequence their health, well being and sometimes financial health are compromised. It's no difference with suppliers - there will be a point - if pushed to far - when they say "enough" and walk away.

Assessing power between a buyer and supplier can only take you so far. Once someone's values such as respect, honesty, integrity and fairness are being compromised you'll be surprised what people are willing to do despite the consequences. (My blog 'Ethical behaviour comes with integrity' also discusses what people are prepared, and not prepared to put up with as a result of their values).

I would love to know your thoughts - as a supplier have you walked away when everyone else would expect you to stick around, and put up with what you believe to be unacceptable behaviour. As a buyer have you been surprised when a supplier has made the decision to just walk away, and what were the reasons given.

For blogs on other topics covered during procurement workshops see blog entitled I've written a blog on that.

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Inspiring change inside and out (more here on why that's important)

Friday 13 November 2015

Landscaping Your Life Launch

It's my birthday today, and I'm excited. It's also the launch of my new Landscaping Your Life blog. Which means I'm double excited. Once I've had my favourite brunch, and favourite desert, and no doubt the odd piece of birthday cake then excitement won't be the word for it :-)

Please see below a duplicate of today's blog over on the Landscaping Your Life web page. Although of course I'd love you to pop over there, subscribe and tell your friends too.
Since April 2000 I've used nature as our teacher and metaphor for life with clients helping them to get back on track. As a result I've developed many different tools and techniques, and the collective term used to describe these terms is Landscaping Your Life. 

As I relaunch Landscaping Your Life today I wanted to provide an index of the blogs I've written on the subject. These blogs cover a range of topics:

  • Sayings we use that keep us stuck - and how to use them to get unstuck   
  • Observations from nature - noticing what we notice 
  • Using landscaping Your Life in business, or procurement
  • and a few others Landscaping Your Life tools and techniques 
Of all the different tools I use to help people get back on track Landscaping Your Life has been the most effective, and efficient too. It's why it's still a tool I use often with others and myself. It's as if it's stood the test of time - like much of nature itself. 

Landscaping Your Life tools are very quick, and the insight can stay with people for years. Easy for me to say I know. I'm hoping with this launch, therefore, that I can encourage past clients to share their experiences so that you may learn of its efficacy from them rather than me. 

That said the easiest way to check LYL's effectiveness is to try it for yourself. Why not have a read of some of the following blogs, pick one of the tools and have a go for yourself - and do let me know how you get on. 

Or simply join me going forward as I add new blogs with insight from nature, or share tools you can use at work or home, alone or in groups, to help provide insight on a challenge.  

Sayings we use that keep us stuck and using them to get unstuck   

Observations from nature - noticing what we notice  
Using landscaping Your Life in business, or procurement
And other tools not so well supported by lots of blogs :-)
I hope as you've explored some of these posts they have given you a flavour of what's possible when using nature as your teacher. 

I also hope that you will now join me here, on YouTubepinterest and/or Facebook as I further explore the changes that can be inspired when we allow Landscaping Your Life, and perhaps more importantly nature, to do its magic! 

A new year Landscaping Your Life workshop is being considered in a venue in the north of England or Scotland. Do let me know, therefore, if you'd like to be kept updated as plans take shape. Or would like me to consider workshops in your part of the world (Hawaii and Australia would be great destinations for a holiday too :-)). Coaching and group facilitation are also available - do call me +44 (0)7770 538159 or

I look forward, over the coming weeks, months and years, to exploring with you what nature has to teach us so we may all stay on track and find our flow.

With love and laughter *

Alison Smith
Landscaping Your Life
Using nature to inspire change inside and out (more here on why that's important)

* and if you'd like to hear what the laughter sounds like turn your sound down a little (ok a lot) and play this vlog

Tuesday 10 November 2015


You know that feeling when you think something should be easier than it is, and you're getting increasingly frustrated at what the other person is saying because it's still not making sense?

A bit like when you're trying to do one of the above puzzles, and you're just moving the tiles around in some random order, and getting nowhere.

I had 2 of those sorts of conversations this morning - one on the phone to the bank, and the other whilst tweeting back and forth with Tesco regarding my club card vouchers (mundane I know but a useful example as you'll find out)!

The common cause of this frustration was misunderstanding - on both sides. That is on both occasions both parties felt what they were saying was easy to understand, and therefore getting frustrated at the lack of understanding by the other person.

With Tesco it involved me having to go back to the beginning and confirm that when I used this URL, and pressed that button, this appeared and not what they were telling me. Of course when they had the missing piece of the jigsaw they then realised the cause of the misunderstanding, and could tell me what URL to use instead.

With the bank I'm not sure she ever understood why I wasn't following what she was saying. To her, with her knowledge and understanding what she was saying was common sense. I'm not sure therefore she understood why I was still having a problem. In this instance the missing pieces of information for me were:
  1. My personal user account is linked to my business account - I can therefore use my personal account user name and password to access my business account! (who knew?)
  2. My debit card can be used to authenticate my account on the card reader - ie I don't need a authentication card as I have used in the past - (how simple). 
  3. The card reader provided for my old business account can be used for my new business account - perhaps a little more obvious once points 1 & 2 have been clarified.
Postscript upon trying this out: no that doesn't work, and my lack of understanding was because there was no logic, and no way on Earth the advice given was going to work, and yes an authentication card is required - which they will now send me!!! Not sure what language we were both talking but it certainly wasn't the same one!! I should trust my intuition more because I knew it wasn't right and kept checking, but that obviously simply got us into the realms of more miscommunication. 

I remember a colleague getting very frustrated with me that I wasn't agreeing with her about something. The more I didn't understand and agree with her the more frustrated she got. In the end I said to her:

"For you to be this angry and vocal about the situation I know you're right. However I don't yet know why you're right. That is there is a missing piece of knowledge or logic that you know that I don't - yet. Help me find the missing piece of information before we come to blows."

How often when we're disagreeing with someone do we assume it's a real disagreement rather than spend a little time to confirm we're talking the same language, and to find the common ground.

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Inspiring change inside and out

Monday 2 November 2015

Reasons to be angry part 2 - mirrors

Last week I said I'd explore another source of anger and so here it is - reasons to be angry part 2 *
Anger comes in many shapes and sizes, and its sources are as numerous. That said we each have a choice what emotion we respond to another person with. In other words:
  • It is not true to say that a person's behaviour made us angry.
  • It is true to say we chose to be angry as a result of the other person's behaviour.
A subtle difference, and yet one that changes the responsibility for the anger from the other person to us. Something we often don't like to take responsibility for - preferring instead to continue to blame the other person.

When we feel anger it certainly feels as if our anger is justified - of course we believe we're right to be angry about the person doing this, saying that, or not doing something else. However consider these 2 different reasons for anger:
  • Anger that is appropriate, and ensures we take action to distance ourselves from the source of the unacceptable behaviour. That is situations where most people would agree with us about the unacceptableness of the other persons actions. These situations are often supported by the law, codes of conduct and ethics, or human rights.   
  • Anger that arises when one of our buttons has been pressed - ie other people might not necessarily agree with us about the unacceptableness of the other person's actions. 
It's this latter form of anger I want to explore.

Last week I discussed the situation where our anger arises from compromised values. That is we value a behaviour so much we get angry when other people don't meet our expectations in that regard.

Today I want to look at anger when its source is the disowned parts of us that we see in other people.

I'm sure we can all recall times when someone has said of another "they're so arrogant" or "rude","selfish", "lazy", "critical", "aggressive", "dishonest", "competitive" and so on - when our response to them would ideally be "and so are you".

The key is remembering if we can say "and so are you" when someone judges another person - then the same can be said of us. That is we too can judge other people simply because it's a fault we don't accept in ourselves. The key to recognising this is happening is that anger or irritation is often involved.

Consider the following list and rank the level of anger/irritation (0/10) you feel when people demonstrate the behaviour:
  • Arrogant
  • Rude
  • Selfish
  • Lazy
  • Critical
  • Aggressive
  • Dishonest
  • Competitive
  • Controlling
  • Passive
  • Manipulative 
  • Talkative
  • Negative
  • Positive
  • Unethical
  • Resistant
  • Analytical
  • Uncompassionate
  • Apathetic
If non of these have pressed your buttons then write your own list of what behaviours do press your buttons and that illicit an angry / irritated response. To do this you may want to remember when you've been irritated with someone, and identify the behaviour they were demonstrating that triggered your reaction.

For any of the higher scoring behaviours you may want to consider if any of the following are true:
  • Does everyone agree with your assessment of the other person's behaviour? and if you say yes - are you sure? and what evidence do you have? (When we get angry, and there's no budging us on our opinion, others may find it difficult to disagree with us and simply just nod, or change the subject, believing quite rightly, its easier to acquiesce than disagree.)
  • Are you irritated every time everyone demonstrates this behaviour or just some people - what's the difference between those whose behaviour you accept, and those that you get angry about?
  • Do you get angry when you demonstrate this behaviour - and what excuses differences are there between you demonstrating the behaviour and other people?
  • Is the behaviour compromising a value you have?
  • Is this a behaviour you perhaps need to learn how to do more of - for example we could get angry about someone being selfish because a part of us knows we need to learn how to think of ourselves more than others sometimes.
  • Is this a behaviour you demonstrate that you don't like nor accept in yourself.
The clue we're onto something useful for this last point is the discomfort we feel when we 'agree' we too can be seen by others to demonstrate, some of the time, some aspects of, that behaviour - but we don't like it. 

Another clue we're disowning that part is the ease with which we can run down the rest of the list and say "yes I can be like that sometimes" with no emotion nor discomfort accompanying the statement.

Yet when we get to a disowned behaviour we resist acknowledging that this behaviour is also a part of our repertoire. We get uncomfortable and try to qualify our behaviour.

To take the anger out of our judgement of others requires us to own, acknowledge and appreciate that behaviour in ourselves. Oddly as it sounds it's this ownership that takes the heat our of our own behaviour - it's as if when we don't own it - the behaviour controls us. As soon as we own it we have choice about how we demonstrate the behaviour - enabling us to utilise all its best qualities rather than only show its more challenging sides. 

Easier said than done and may include considering one or all of the following:
  • The benefits to be gained from that behaviour (e.g. we may resist selfishness because we can't see any benefits from doing it)? or what's the positive energy behind the behaviour?
  • What other terms can be used to describe this behaviour (e.g selfishness might be described as having courage, supporting well being, assertiveness, ensuring sustainability and survival. Another way to get at the benefits)?
  • How can you demonstrate this behaviour more usefully?
  • What situations does this behaviour come up in for you - with specific people, in specific places, in reaction to specific behaviours? 
  • How does, or has, this behaviour set you back in the past - ie think of a specific instance (sometimes we're holding on to a specific event, and therefore acknowledging the pain (setback) we're still holding on to allows the behaviour to become just like the other behaviours). 
  • How might you deal with these situations differently in the future?
  • What action can you take to no longer be setback by this behaviour (I remember one example where the antidote to superiority was coming in sooner with a solution in meetings rather than holding back in a very superior way. It's certainly easier to identify an antidote if you've identified and described a situation where you've been setback by the behaviour.)  
I'd love to know if you've had any ah-ha's as you've read this.

I realise as I've been writing this that much of the insight shared here have arisen as I've used the Frameworks for change Coaching Process with clients to address many of these sorts of behaviours (see ** below for more on the process). If you're interested in finding out more about the coaching I do please call me +44 (0)7770 538159 or email

Alison Smith
Inspiring change inside and out

* Every time I read 'Reasons to be angry part 2' I think of Ian and the Blockheads Reasons to be Cheerful part 3 and remember seeing them at the Victoria Hall, Stoke on Trent in 1978! Oh dear - with my birthday approaching - that does make me feel old!

** Frameworks for change coaching process (FCP)

I've been successfully using the FCP in my coaching and group facilitation work with clients since 2005
  • FCP - applied to improving relationships at work
  • Youtube - a playlist with a couple of video blogs on the subject

*** I do like Johnhain's pictures (as shown above) and found in Pixabay - I've used his images a few times on this blog. I must buy him a coffee very soon.

Friday 30 October 2015

Expectations and achievement

Over the years I've obtained many insights from my personal training sessions. Such sessions that have me rushing to my laptop have usually ended with my laughter and "that would make a great blog."

Here's what generated today's laughter and insight.

Earlier in the week I ended my PT session with 3 sets of plank of increasing duration - 30s, 45s and 60s. On the last set I was screeching and near to tears as my body shook with strain at holding such a strong position for so long.

... Fast forward to this morning ...

"Please don't get me to do 60s again" I pleaded. Which resulted in the following.
  • I held plank for 30s - being told of my progress in 10s increments.
  • I held plank for 45s - being told of my progress in 10s increments
  • I held plank for 60s - being told of mu progress in 10s increments
My personal trainer then showed me his stop watch ....

Apparently my timings were actually 30s, 50s, 71s, with increments in approx 12s (when telling me they were 10s).

Had he told me before I started I was going to do it for that long I'd have failed to do it! I know myself well enough to know that, certainly as far as fitness is concerned, if I don't think I can do something then I won't. Today's white lie proved to me I have to be careful about my expectations of my ability to do things - both fitness and I'm sure at work too.  

Alison Smith
Inspiring change - inside and out in mind, body, heart, soul and purchasing!

Other insights shared more broadly here around well being broadly have covered:

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".