Point Lookout An email newsletter from Chaco Canyon Consulting
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October 24, 2001 Volume 1, Issue 43
 
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First Aid for Painful Meetings

by

The foundation of any team meeting is its agenda. A crisply focused agenda can make the difference between a long, painful affair and finishing early. If you're the meeting organizer, develop and manage the agenda for maximum effectiveness.

As the hour wore on, Geoff began to wonder why this meeting, too, had gone so wrong. Here they were, plowing over well-plowed ground yet again. With just ten minutes left in the hour, they still hadn't started talking about the Release Team's findings. Frustration was rising. Geoff wondered if perhaps this team just couldn't work together.

Have you ever been here?

To help your team achieve its potential, make meeting agendas crisp and focused. A solid, agreed-upon agenda gives your team a better chance to prepare, to stay on track and to maintain focus. Here are eight tips for improving agendas and how you manage them.

Circulate a draft agenda in advance
Working on a puzzleDraft an agenda and circulate it in advance. Because you probably aren't omniscient, ask attendees for their contributions. This builds ownership of the agenda by the team. Allocate time for each item. If you don't, how will you know if you're running late? Include a Draft "Not-Agenda" — topics that are off limits for this meeting.
First agenda item: review the agenda
Reviewing the agenda smokes out confusion, and helps solidify consensus about the agenda. With everyone on board, it's easier to manage digressions.
Allocate time for puzzles
Usually, we're reluctant to admit that we don't know everything. Time for puzzles gives people permission to surface confusions early, and helps avoid major problems later.
Limit in-meeting handouts
Circulating handouts during meetings wastes time. Often we have too much to read, and too little chance to digest it. Limit each handout to one side of one page. Circulate longer reports in advance by email.
No routine announcements
To help your team
achieve its potential,
make meeting agendas
crisp and focused
Shift routine FYI's, such as status reports, to prior-to-the-meeting email. Reserve meeting time for delicate or complex announcements, and for issues that require discussion.
Designate Someone as a Digression Detector
The Designated Digression Detector (DDD) signals a possible digression in a fun or humorous way — a bicycle horn, a New Year's noisemaker, whatever. On the signal, the meeting stops to decide if a digression has occurred, and whether to adjust the agenda, or make a note for a future meeting, or adjourn until further information is available.
Look in the rear-view mirror
Circulate the as-executed agenda as part of the minutes. By comparing the as-executed agenda to the pre-meeting agenda, you might be able to find ways to improve your agenda-creation process.
Learn from digressions
Use the notes of the DDD to develop future draft agendas. If an item repeatedly appears in the Digressions List, consider doing something proactive — apparently the team really wants to discuss the topic. That's valuable information, even if a discussion of the topic itself isn't really appropriate.

For more on agendas, see "An Agenda for Agendas," Point Lookout for May 25, 2005; and "Have a Program, Not Just an Agenda," Point Lookout for May 9, 2007. Go to top Top  Next issue: When You're Scared to Tell the Truth  Next Issue
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Order from AmazonThere are lots of good references on running meetings and forming agendas, especially Michael Doyle and David Straus, How to Make Meetings Work: The new interaction method, Berkley Books, 1993. Order from Amazon.com.


101 Tips for Effective MeetingsDo you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!

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If you tell people "I want no surprises," prepare for disappointment. For the kind of work that most of us do, surprises are inevitable. Still, there's some core of useful meaning in "I want no surprises," and if we think about it carefully, we can get what we really need.

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See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Effective Meetings for more related articles.

Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout

A highway sign on the way to AbileneComing March 4: Virtual Trips to Abilene
One dysfunction of face-to-face meetings is the Trip to Abilene, which leads groups to make decisions no members actually support. It can afflict virtual meetings, too, even more easily. Available here and by RSS on March 4.
Brendan Nyhan and Jason ReiflerAnd on March 11: Historical Debates at Work
One obstacle to high performance in teams is the historical debate — arguing about who said what and when, or who agreed to what and when. Here are suggestions for ending and preventing historical debates. Available here and by RSS on March 11.

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I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenner@ChacoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

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Public seminars

Decision-Making for Team Leaders
EffecDecision-Making for Team Leaderstive group decision-making requires far more than knowing how to organize a discussion or take a vote. This program is designed for both new and experienced team leaders or team sponsors, managers, project managers, portfolio managers, program managers, and executives and general managers. It is especially valuable to people who work in organizations that confront fluid environments, in which decisions must be made in the context of uncertainty. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Risk Management for Leaders
On 14The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Risk Management for Leaders December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in risk management and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at risk management from the vantage point of history. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
MasteChanging How We Change: The Essence of Agilityry of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Managing in Fluid Environments
Most Managing in Fluid Environmentspeople now work in environments that can best be characterized as fluid, because they're subject to continual change. We never know what's coming next. In such environments, managing — teams, projects, groups, departments, or the enterprise — often entails moving from surprise to surprise while somehow staying almost on track. It's a nerve-wracking existence. This program provides numerous tools that help managers who work in fluid environments. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Cognitive Biases and Workplace Decision-Making
For mCognitive Biases and Workplace Decision-Makingost of us, making decisions is a large part of what we do at work. And we tend to believe that we make our decisions rationally, except possibly when stressed or hurried. That is a mistaken belief — very few of our decisions are purely rational. In this eye-opening yet entertaining program, Rick Brenner guides you through the fascinating world of cognitive biases, and he'll give concrete tips to help you control the influence of cognitive biases. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

How to Spot a Troubled Project Before the Trouble StartsLearn how to spot troubled projects before they get out of control.
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
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