Do Your Meetings Need a Communications Traffic Cop?

For F2F – Or Virtual Meetings Via Video or Phone Conferencing?

A Communications Traffic Cop – something I used to teach Product Managers – who ran Product Team meetings – to be – back in the mid 1980s through the mid 1990s.

If they didn’t structure and FACILITATE their meetings well, and give EVERYONE a VOICE, they’d probably be sorry soon enough.

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Otherwise meetings can go sooooooooo out of control. And waste soooooooooo much time.

Note: A PowerPoint Template is provided below to get you a FAST start.

But first…

Today We Are At the Beginning of the Worldwide Covid-19 Pandemic

And everybody is rushing to Virtual Meetings.

And I began reading about some of the issues arising.

I always dislike it when people wasted my time in meetings – and so it was my habit to facilitate meetings, per an agenda, that got modified at the start.

But it was my 3 years of experiences as a Director/President Elect at ISPI that caused me to create the following when I became President in 2003.

And I think that after HAVING AN AGENDA – this next part is critical… the effective and efficient use of the human capital trapped in your meeting.

Creating a Shared Expectation for a Meeting Discussion/ Decision Making Process

That was my intent anyway.

So I created an 11×17 placemat (below), laminated them so as to be spill-proof, and handed them out when it was my turn to run ISPI Board Meetings (April 2003 – April 2004) as the President of the Society.

The one below is an update to my earlier version – after sharing the initial version with my Board and getting their feedback in my first meeting as leader. I have previously posted on this – here in 2007 and here in 2011.

One Side

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Another Side

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The Placemats went through a few versions as Board Members had suggestions for tweaks – word-smithing – etc. – and even though the first one was laminated so I could demo it as a real item – I was careful to put the word “DRAFT” in an off-color and at an off angle in several places. I wanted the group of Directors to own the final version so that we would hopefully then actually use it. And we did.

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My intent was to bring a sub-process routine to every discussion – so that some couldn’t as easily dominate any conversation – and others would more or less be forced to voice at least something in their turn in the quick 30 seconds rounds – as you can see by that model being included on both sides – or all 3 presented here.

From a 2011 Post – Updated in 2013 – On This

I forget where this idea came from – it surely isn’t original – but I created laminated 11×17 Placemats for my ISPI Board April 2003 –  April 2004. I had done this before – back in the mid-1980s for those Product Managers at AT&T Network Systems.

In my update to the 2011 post –  from  January 2013 – I now believe it was Barry Booth – from back in the early days of NSPI for me – the late 70’s/ early 1980’s – when I saw him speak about Job Aids, which for him were mostly hand drawn and laminated for his Caterpillar Inc. factory environment. You know – if it plays in Peoria…

Probably shouldn’t have laminated that first iteration – as it seemed to me that it seemed to others – that it “locked” the process and wording into stone. Lesson Learned – and now Shared. Lamination = Set in Stone.

Why Create This?

I had seen too many “Heated Agreements” in prior Board Meetings and had hoped to truncate them – by bringing up an Agenda Item and doing a quick 30-second Round to enable all to let the rest of us know where they were at on this item.

You know what a Heated Agreement is don’t you?

Where two or more people get kinda hot about some topic and eventually, after much heat has been dispersed and offenses taken, they determine that they are actually in agreement with each other.

It’s usually the Semantics that trips them up.

I had felt rushed in almost all of the Board meetings I had participated in…rushed to state my view…rushed to a decisions without hearing from everyone and any real dialogue.

We were almost always too rushed to tell everyone what we were each thinking so that everyone could address each others’ thoughts directly AND share with all of us their thoughts – so that everyone could “talk through” something.

What usually happened is that some Directors “held back” politely waiting to hear from others – who sometimes dominated the topic due only to their passion and not because they didn’t want to hear from others.

Invariably the clock would almost always seem to “run out” on the agenda item and the President would need to balance “more discussion” with “managing the total agenda” so that we wouldn’t “not get to something” because the agenda items were negotiated and not getting to some one board member’s item on the agenda might cause an issue.

Everyone is entitled to get a little unhappy that THEIR ITEM didn’t get addressed because of poor meeting management skills. So I wanted to avoid that too – but ensure that everyone got heard.

And more than once. Formally.

So the “declared structure” I verbally explained and graphically presented – via the first iteration of the placemat – to “my” Board contained 2 places where I wanted to give everyone “30 Seconds – no more – but less was cool too” to state their views both BEFORE and AFTER a more free-for-all (but not quite) DISCUSSION period where I would manage the item and the clock … as the meeting agenda dictated.

The Discussion Process Overview

The Process:

  • Bring up the topic and intent (FYI, Decision now or later, etc.) by the Topic Owner (whoever put this item on the Agenda)
  • 30 Second Round by everyone in some systematic order to tell us your initial thoughts, questions, comments, concerns
  • Full Discussion (as needed) to make your case regarding the topic and to convince everyone of the brilliance of your view (Just Kidding)
  • 30 Second Round to let us all know where you are at now
  • Summary of what was heard by all (all points of View)
  • Decision/Motions-Voting/Other, etc. (appropriate to what the intent was)

Of course, if you don’t like structure and some level of predictability – you could simply opt for chaos.

Whatever – Whenever – However.

Or you could let your group do that for a while – and then when it is timely – as timing is often EVERYTHING – you could spring this on them – or your version of same.

Your proposed DRAFT version of this that is.

Mo Details

The 6 step structure I created is:

1- Opening Statement – by the Item Owner ensuring that if this was their baby that they got to “position” this any way they wished and the words didn’t have to come from me and therefore too-often be “not quite right.” Causing “rework” and “double time” being subtracted from the allotted time on the carefully negotiated and planned agenda.

2- 30 Second Round – of initial questions/comments/concerns from everyone, where we could hopefully see more quickly that we were all in agreement and avoid a round of heated agreements caused by semantics. It’s not just semantics – it’s always semantics! – author unknown.

If it was a hot or complex item these would be “boarded” to keep them visible. I tried to use this sparingly as this too came down to the semantics of the words chosen by the scribe…all too often just not right enough to convey….

Or we would see what really needed to be addressed in the next step in terms of initial disagreements or potential disagreements, and therefore we would likely be more successful and efficient there in what topics we really talked through and addressed to adequately cover all of those questions/comments /concerns.

3- Discussion – for the allotted time or as adjusted due to group consensus about halfway through the allotted time. Again – focused squarely on those initial questions/comments /concerns and any others that came up via this segment of the process.

4- 30 Second Round – so that everyone can state where they “ended up” with their thoughts and/or their initial questions/comments /concerns – before “the vote” or “Motion” of “action/inaction decision” that is to be achieved two steps away. After a summary of what’s been expressed.

5- Summary – of the discussion – by someone other than the Item Owner ensuring that if this was their baby that they didn’t get to “position” this any way they wished and the words (still) didn’t have to come from me and therefore too-often be “not quite right.” Causing “rework” and “double time” being subtracted from the allotted time on the carefully negotiated and planned agenda.

6- Formal Motion/Vote -someone would then Motion for a vote, an action, or whatever….

Is this structure “overkill” for your needs? Adapt it!

You might be following Robert’s Rules of Order formally or you may be doing this quite loosely based on the Rules. Or just “way too” loosely.

In any event I offer you this example of a “micro-structural guide” for agenda item deliberations – so that you might adopt and/or adapt them to meet your situational requirements.

The 1st 30 Second Round – Is Critical IMO

If we were all pretty much in agreement – there was less need for someone to “hog the agenda time” with their floor time – and go deep with all of their reasons for why we should Decide “X” on this, as we continued/if we continued with discussion on that topic.

If I – the President – held everyone to that first 30 seconds limit – then we could all take the “collective pulse” – and then move on, as appropriate.

And I could give everyone time for “their say” in the matter. And that would end the unfortunate situation that sometimes happened – someone would not get any time for their say – as the Leader moved us along the agenda as we fell behind.

I saw the unhappiness that sometimes resulted from that (I had been on this Board for 3 years by the time it became my turn). Not a good thing for Team/Group morale.

The Discussion Process

Note the 3-part core – steps 2-3-4 of this 6 step process…

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“30 Second – Discussion – 30 Second” – that conducted two “round robins” – as bookends – to ensure that everyone got their chance to say their piece – while also allowing for a more free form period where the moderator (appointed formally or not) takes a more “hands off approach” unless certain boundaries are crossed: time, appropriateness, etc. Lots of “appropriateness” issues typically lurk.

  1. Give any topic everyone has 30 seconds or less, certainly no more, to say what they think, expressing any comments or concerns and/or asking  their questions of the topic leader/group.
  2. Then there is a discussion bounded by the topic and any time limits you have – if you have a strict agenda or are freewheeling the meeting – and any behavior norms you have, or wish to have. See the examples in both “first pages” above.
  3. Then everyone gets to state their final questions, comments and concerns.

And then you do whatever – come to a decision/or take a decision – vote – show of hands – assume the close (it might be a case of “it is what is is”), etc. Close out the topic – which always depends on the purpose of it being on the agenda, as an FYI, to make a Decision, make a Plan, allocate Resources, etc., etc.

Please adapt to your situation’s specifics – for your team’s efforts in meetings.

Adopt What You Can – And Adapt the Rest

How would you adapt this to create a DRAFT for your team’s reviews and adaptations?

… following my rule of “Adopt what you can; and Adapt the rest.”

If you’d like the PowerPoint version of this – here it is:

Placemat – For Meetings Decision Making – ISPI 2003 Example For Sharing – 2012 (PTT)

And – attributions as of me as the source – would be nice. But whatever.

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Stay Safe.

Stay Effective and Efficient.

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