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Are you driving your meetings into a ditch? December 2, 2012

Posted by Jason in Management.
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As a consultant, I help managers and front-line supervisors to achieve their myriad, sometimes conflicting, corporate goals.  Usually, in the mining environment, this relates to daily production rates – how many trucks, how much rock, how many tons processed and sold.  Despite mining’s many inherent challenges of geology, mechanical breakdowns, and logistics, seasoned professionals have seen most of them before.  One of the largest barriers to improvement isn’t any of these, rather, it is the staff itself – sometimes an individual, but often a corporate culture that has become bogged down in habit – a habit of bad meetings.

One of the first things we do on a site is examine meeting effectiveness.  We use the 5-P model, modified to fit our particular clients’ needs.  Our model requires that each meeting have:

  1. Purpose
  2. Payoff
  3. Participants
  4. Process
  5. Preparation

In short, we want clear outcomes (for the meeting itself and the longer term strategy), the right people, a clear agenda, and enough preparation that no one is receiving important information “cold turkey”.

But there is another, sneakier way that meetings can be hijacked.  This article illustrates another “P” – one that you DON’T want to have if you want to get things done.  PLOT stands for Parkinson’s Law of Triviality.  It states that more time is spent discussing low-impact issues simply because they are more familiar and controllable.  Bigger, more important issues are given mere minutes due to complexity and a tendency to trust the ‘experts’, while low value ‘bike sheds’ consume hours.

Though intended as a spoof, indeed there is likely some behavioral science behind this (Dan Ariely, are you reading this?).  We know that people can act quite irrationally when emotionally involved with an issue.  And if there’s anything that meetings seem to be especially good at, it is the nurturing of irrationality.

Coordination April 19, 2010

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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“We’re having a coordination meeting to align the stakeholders and make actionable decisions about deliverables.”  Ugh.

What exactly is a “coordination meeting”?

Are the participants expected to do anything different with the information (assuming it is even valuable) than what they would normally do in the course of their work?  Or is it merely a tool to shift accountability from the manager, who can then say, “You should have asked that in the meeting”.

Any meeting needs accomplish some purpose.  It may very well be that information transfer is a key element, but more likely it is not.  For example, let’s say that management needs to coordinate the activities of its IT and marketing staff for a particular effort.  Is this to say that these groups are not already coordinated?  If not, perhaps the job descriptions need a bit of tweaking.  If so, such meetings should be minimal at best, and should only be needed for special projects that probably include other stakeholders anyway (all the more reason to have a SHORT meeting for this purpose).

More than likely however, such meetings are held on a weekly basis and are done out of habit more than anything else.  I won’t repeat them here, but look up the “5 P’s” of meetings to ensure yours are on track and not just time dumps for your staff.