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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Meetings: Tool for Managing Benefit Realization and Stakeholder Engagements

Every organization uses the meeting as a tool to accomplish many things. This concept of a meeting has become so mundane in today's business context. Whether we are leading a project, designing a product, coordinating a program, or supporting the operations, there are meetings galore on everyone's calendar! Meetings exist to collect & share information, review progress and risks to delivery, updates to management or team such as kill gates, management checkpoints, or health check reviews, manage changes to the projects or programs or problem-solve a technical or management challenge among many other reasons to have a meeting.

However, when you ask the question of how effective the meetings are in accomplishing the outcome the meetings are supposed to address, there is a wide spectrum of comments and objections one can hear! How often is the organization or even a project using the meeting as a stakeholder engagement tool? 

There are several books, blog articles, and training guides on conducting effective meetings. Then, why are some organizations advocating against meeting free days (hickey, n.d.) or email free days?  Synthesizing major recommendations of many of these recommendations come down to three things: 1) have an agenda, 2) involve the right people, and 3) have an effective facilitator. Let us look at these principles a little closely.

The first recommendation espoused was the golden principle of having an agenda to begin the meeting. This recommendation emphasized the focus on the purpose of the meeting.  I am sure some of us can relate to not attending any meeting without an agenda. However, despite having a written agenda published several days back, how conclusively we can agree that all these effective meetings had an agenda and so were efficient? The fundamental root cause is that productivity is associated with outcomes. A mere attendance at the meetings or raising a viewpoint doesn't accomplish anything except burn people's time! The goal of every meeting is to have clear outcomes that advance towards the benefits to be realized for the benefit of the project, team or organizational objectives. This means there should be decision points agreed and actions items articulated with a clear accountable and responsible owner and with a definitive timeline to provide an incremental update on the action items! Meetings are an effective source of the productivity loss (Rajagopalan, 2014a) if there is no laser focus on outcome management.

The second recommendation we listed was involving the right people! In a world that appreciates "less is more", is involving too many people in a meeting appropriate use of people's time especially if the meeting's purpose is not to disseminate information (multicast)? A successful meeting is the one that has carefully identified the right parties with the decision authority to advance completion of the agenda/objectives towards an outcome or take accountability to follow up with an action item to close (Rajagopalan, 2016). Meetings are also an effective stakeholder engagement tool because unengaged or non-participating members are also contributing to the cost of a meeting (Rajagopalan, 2014b)! These members can be released from the meeting completely or early on so that they can be productive in what they do the best! Not managing this rightful audience and measuring the contribution effectiveness of the delegates in a meeting is a leadership failure on the organizer/facilitator of the meeting.

The third challenge we noted was having a good facilitator! Especially in meetings where participation from meeting attendees is required, this facilitation is critical. While we need to allow innovation, creativity, and problem-solving to continue, we also need to make sure that we allow tangential discussions and gut-feel thoughts that derail the meeting. Depending upon the value of such ideas, the organizer may have to put this parking lot, or delegate or seek the support of a leader with the decision authority to address that right away. Having another person to be a scribe (meeting notes taker) or a scheduler to keep up with the time is also an important element of facilitation, particularly in light of today's virtual meetings where the facilitator may be presenting on the screen and can't have the luxury of taking notes! Not having a timebox to ensure that outcomes are identified or action items are listed is a disservice to the other members who are attending the meeting.

So, next time you call for a meeting or organize a meeting, think what outcomes the meeting should accomplish, what attendees with the right decision authority are present, how much are the meeting attendees able to delegate their work, and how you will facilitate the meeting to ensure that action item are identified to advance every meeting incrementally and iteratively towards realizing the benefits for the organization. 

Hickey, K.F. (n.d.) How to take back your productivity with no meeting wednesday. Retrieved January 31, 2018, from

Rajagopalan, S. (2014a). Enhancing productivity. Retrieved January 31, 2018, from

Rajagopalan, S. (2014b). Effective virtual meetings. Retrieved January 31, 2018, from

Rajagopalan, S. (2016). Agile or Traditional: Productivity management still has basic roots. Retrieved January 31, 2018, from

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