By Bryan Field
We all know that meetings are a basic fact of business life. They have been an essential business tool for centuries and remain a critical ingredient to corporate collaboration, innovation and overall execution. Despite technological advances in communication tools, meetings continue to consume a massive amount of time, as they remain an essential vehicle for collaborating on business challenges and opportunities.
According to research presented in the May 2014 Harvard Business Review (HBR), titled “Your Scarcest Resource:”
On average, senior executives devote more than two days every week to meetings involving three or more coworkers, and 15% of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings—a percentage that has increased every year since 2008.
Yet the overwhelming consensus among business professionals is that meetings are an inefficient drain on time and resources. The same HBR article noted
that senior executives rated more than half the meetings they attended as “ineffective” or “very ineffective.”
Whether you spend your meeting time in the boardroom, a conference room or a virtual meeting space, the productivity drain caused by ineffective meetings is widely acknowledged and reluctantly tolerated.
Countless articles, blog posts and books have been written on various “tips and tricks” for conducting better business meetings. A simple Google search on meeting tips and tricks will return nearly 18 million hits. With so much information and so many “tricks,” one would hope that these shortcuts have led to great strides in corporate meeting productivity. Yet the research reveals that the quality of our business meetings is no better today than it was twenty years ago, and is in fact getting worse.
While many great ideas are contained in some of these writings, they fail to provide comprehensive end-to-end method(s) that solve the fundamental challenges with meetings once and for all. To address this void, the authors of this article published a comprehensive guide for conducting business meetings titled Powerfully Simple Meetings – Your Guide to Fewer, Faster, More Focused Business Meetings. Regardless of whether or not you ever read this entire book, there is one essential tool that can radically improve the productivity and performance of your business meetings – a concept we call Meeting Assets ™.
Meeting Assets ™
How often do you attend meetings where ideas are expressed, plans sketched, options explored, decisions made, and action items assigned? All the time, right? How often do these meetings end with those ideas, plans, decisions and action items seemingly left behind in the conference room? Of course attendees may take notes or rely on their memories to retain the information discussed in their meetings, but how reliable is that?
Or perhaps your meetings are more sophisticated and capture meeting discussion in the form of meeting minutes. But how effective are minutes in improving the productivity of your meetings? A hodgepodge of information, meeting minutes fail to distinguish important content from superfluous information. Readers are left to fend for themselves to sift the meeting wheat from the chaff. The reality is that minutes do little to extract the value that’s created in the meeting space.
The fundamental problem is that organizations lack a method for recognizing and leveraging the intellectual property generated during the course of a business meeting. As a result, valuable meeting content is often mismanaged or just plain missed.
Meeting Assets™ represent the return on capital for your business meeting investment. They are the intellectual property produced during the course of your meetings: such as important ideas, distinctions, actions, issues/risks identified, and decisions made. In essence, Meeting Assets™ are the reasons organizations meet in the first place. By recognizing these valuable assets and putting them into service, organizations can finally leverage the full power of the meeting process.
Learning how to identify, extract and communicate Meeting Assets™ is fundamental to meeting effectiveness. If meeting leaders simply learn how to efficiently identify and manage Meeting Assets™, organizations can realize tremendous productivity gains in their meeting process. This requires a simple mindset shift in how we view our meetings.
The Asset Mindset
Even as you read this article, there are likely multiple stimuli vying for your attention. There might be a television or music playing in the background, a conversation occurring in a nearby room, an ache in your lower back, or random thoughts crossing your mind. Fortunately, our brains have a mechanism that allows us to filter common distractions so we can focus on a specific task. Without this filter our individual productivity would be dreadful.
With competing opinions, personalities and diversions, meetings create a unique filtering challenge for the meeting leader. The meeting environment and its subsequent “noise” produce an environment that is ripe for ineffectiveness (for example high ambiguity, limited accountability, confusing process). Outstanding meeting leaders know how to minimize this noise and extract the intellectual property generated. A Meeting Assets™ mindset enables meeting leaders to filter out the distractions in the meeting environment and focus on the valuable intellectual property that is created.
Once your brain is focused on collecting Meeting Assets™, you will realize just how prevalent they are within your meeting space. An asset mindset trains your brain to identify these assets and provides a mechanism to generate even more of them.
Have you ever noticed when you’re in the market for a specific type of vehicle you tend to see those vehicles everywhere? Coincidence? Of course not. Your brain focuses on (and finds more of) whatever is top of your mind. That’s exactly how Meeting Assets™ work once you’ve developed an asset mindset. Doing so requires an understanding of the types of assets you’re looking to extract from your meeting process. A concept we refer to as your asset model.
The Asset Model
Specific Meeting Assets™ can vary depending on the context of the meeting. A project-based meeting might have assets that identify action items, decisions, issues, key notes and risks. A sales meeting might have assets that identify objections, competitor intelligence, key assumptions, client commitments and more. Regardless of the business context, Meeting Assets™ surface in virtually every collaborative meeting.
The first step is to identify the assets you are looking to extract from your meetings. This involves thinking through the underlying business process and brainstorming through a few key questions.
- What types of outcomes from my meetings are important to document?
- What expertise should be extracted from my meeting attendees?
- What type of information should be shared with stakeholders who are not in attendance?
- What types of assignments or tasks commonly surface in my meetings?
- What types of meeting discussion has caused problems in the past due to a lack of clarity?
Evaluating your answers to these questions will clearly reveal the assets you are looking to generate and capture in your meeting process. Once you have determined your Meeting Assets™, the next step is to clarify the attributes related to each asset. For example, let’s consider the following action item.
Notify Finance that additional funding will be needed for the data center expansion.
This action items requires a couple of attributes to be clear and useful. One to clarify ownership (that is, who is going to take the action) and one to clarify when the action item needs to be completed (that is, due date). Clarity is an essential ingredient in leveraging Meeting Assets™.
Capturing Meeting Assets ™
Once you know what you are looking for, capturing assets is a fairly straightforward process. The objective is simple, cut through the meeting noise and capture assets and their attributes as they arise. The key is for meeting managers to remain focused on the strategic content in the meeting and ignore the superfluous conversation.
Capturing assets during your meetings requires just three simple steps:
- Identify—The most obvious step is to identify that an asset has surfaced during your meeting.
- Clarify—Meeting Assets™ are often raised with some degree of ambiguity either on the overall intent (for example, did we just make a final decision or are we still debating this matter?) or in the attributes of the asset (for example, owner or due date). An example of this would be an action item that’s raised without an owner or a due date.So HR is going to prepare the draft proposal and send it to Rhonda and Tom.
There’s obviously some important information that the meeting leader needs to clarify. This includes who in HR is preparing the draft proposal and when it will be sent to Rhonda and Tom.
- Document—Meeting Assets™ that have been identified and clarified are relatively useless unless they are documented for future communication and reinforcement.
Sometimes capturing Meeting Assets™ requires meeting leaders to stop the flow of the meeting and make certain that the assets are captured properly. Asking people to repeat or summarize a statement is often necessary and useful because it reinforces what is being said and documented.
Some assets must be clarified immediately (for example, the rest of the meeting hinges on the clarity of a decision) in order to move forward. Others assets need to be clarified before the meeting is ended and attendees leave, but can wait until the conclusion section of the meeting. Still other assets (particularly non-action oriented assets, such as key notes) can often be reviewed and clarified after the meeting has ended, as part of the meeting summary report process.
At the conclusion of each meeting, a summary of the captured assets needs to be documented and communicated to each meeting stakeholder. The asset report is limited to the most important meeting highlights so that all attendees and other key stakeholders can quickly review the outcomes and clarify if needed. This ensures that each meeting attendee is on the same exact page with respect to key decisions, actions and accountability.
In summary, Meeting Assets™ are the most powerful tools available to capture the intellectual property raised in your meetings, thus ensuring a recognized return on your meeting investment.
You can learn more about Meeting Assets™ and other tools associated with our Powerfully Simple Meetings™ process at www.meetingresult.com. Or contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BRYAN FIELD is a senior information technology executive and cofounder of MeetingResult LLC. He has more than sixteen years of experience in Software and Systems Development, IT Security, Business Process Reengineering and Web and Mobile Technology Implementations and has worked extensively in both the federal government and private sector. Before cofounding MeetingResult, Mr. Field built and led a sales organization for a defense contractor. He received his bachelor of science degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering from Virginia Tech and has been a certified project management professional (PMP) since 2005.