Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Most Meetings are Muda (Waste)

When it comes to meetings, most are excellent forums in providing direction, information and focus. However, I also find that many of them are wasteful (Muda). In the spirit of kaizen (continuous improvement) and lean principles, we can improve the way we conduct meetings. I will not waste your time and regurgitate all the expert based meeting protocols like following an established agenda, having a meeting plan, taking meeting notes, etc. All these ideas are great and work well. Instead, I have a list of a few meeting musts that may guide you to more productive meeting time.

Your Meetings:

Must have a Real Purpose. I think it would be safe to say that some meetings are unnecessary in the first place. Try other means of communication instead of automatically calling a meeting. If you need to be kept in the loop on what is going on, just leave the comforts of your office and go to gemba (the actual place and see for yourself). Eliminate all meetings that are not needed. If you must have a meeting, share the purpose and detailed objectives upfront.

Must be Short. I have attend my fair share of all day meetings that could have been conducted in a fraction of the time. This seems especially true when outside management or consultants drop by and fill everybody's day with "meeting time". If your meetings tend to last over 1 hour, your meeting scope is too large. Educational experts tell us that most adults have about a 20 minute attention span for lectures/meetings. That means that while their bodies are still in the meeting, their minds have already wondered off by the 20 minute mark. At your next long meeting, after about 20 minutes, just look around the room at all the doodlers, the daydreamers and the disconnected. Keep it short and keep everyone engaged.

Must Avoid the History Lessons. How many meetings have you attended that a history dissertation about the problem, project or people is repeated. On top of that, this history lesson has been replayed more times then NBC shows reruns. Enough with the history lessons, that's why we should have meaningful meeting notes/minutes, Right? If you need to catch up, look it up ahead of time or ask someone outside of the meeting!

Must Avoid the Recap. This one is similar to the history lesson. How many meetings have you attended that someone shows up considerable late and the meeting leaders stops the current discussion to go back and recap what has happen so far in this meeting for that person? Usually this person is someone higher up the organizational chart so everybody patiently waits (and zones out) on the recap. Regardless if you are the VP, CEO or Owner, it is rude to subject everybody to this recap and wasteful. It is far better to keep the flow of the meeting going and catching up later. At the very least, call a short break to allow everyone to check their messages, etc, and allow the meeting leader to recap the newcomer one-on-one.

Must Limit the Attendees. I think it's great to want to include everybody but for most meetings only a core group of people is really necessary depending on the purpose. It is a waste for people to sit through long meetings for only one agenda item. Have the other support people or members concerned with smaller portions just pop in and out for their parts. After the meeting, share with the entire group (core members and other interested parties) the detailed meeting minutes.

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