If your meetings are wrought with unpreparedness, heavy agendas and end with scheduling another meeting to “continue the conversation,” something has gone terribly awry.
What are the dreaded last words at a meeting? “It looks like we’ll have to find time to pick this discussion back up.” We’ve all been there! We bite off more than we can chew for a 30-minute time frame or we find ourselves without a clear agenda or a room of people who have not had time to prepare. No matter the circumstance, if the meeting follow-up ends with scheduling another meeting to “continue the conversation,” something has gone terribly awry.
As leaders in our organization (and that’s anyone with leadership qualities, not just a title), we’ve got to develop our skills around creating a sense of urgency and driving action. A conversation topic that ends with “until next time” is dead space. It puts a stop to forward momentum and threatens employees’ ability to feel confident in their decision making until further notice. The catch-22 is that we most often hear “let’s continue this later” in visionary or strategic conversations where teammates approach the topic at hand with varied perspectives, but where getting to that sweet spot of alignment is crucial to staying agile and moving ahead as an organization. Etch this into memory: achieving alignment doesn’t take time, it takes skill.
Here’s a four step approach for generating urgency and ensuring meetings end in next steps beyond putting more talk time on the calendar. The approach outlined here combines well with the RACI responsibility assignment matrix. Heads up, it does take some thinking ahead! As with vetting any new approach, take it, try it, apply what works and adapt what doesn’t:
What type of decision or action needs to happen? Agree on a new product strategy? Select a new market to explore? A well-defined need for a decision will drive participants to make a well-defined decision. Including the WHY raises the stakes and provides a jumping off point for the conversation. For example, “We need to commit to a new prioritization framework because teams feel disconnected from the broader company vision” is much clearer than “we need to create a prioritization framework.” In this case, it’s clear to participants that the prioritization solution should also strengthen the visibility of and employee connection to the company’s long-term strategy and vision.
Who can be confidants and advisors? Go to them first to ask for candid feedback and to ask tough questions and to help catch any blind spots, not necessarily to make a decision.
Who will be directly affected? Invite them to be consultants. A great way to secure resentment is by making a sweeping decision about how other people are going to do their jobs or run their departments without consulting them. A decision that gets made without input from those it affects is bound to go sour and meet resistance before becoming a success. Invite anyone who wants to opt-in as a consultant to do just that. Creating an open invite also relieves pressure to participate on those who may not feel strongly one way or the other and ensures people who want to have a say can have one.
Who should be informed? Let them know the conversation is happening and when decisions are made, as needed and depending on how close they are to the topic.
Take the weight off of anyone who isn’t responsible or accountable by telling them who is, and make sure the team knows the timeline for the decision: “Hey all, ultimately this is on me, so I want to take into account your feedback, but if things go wrong, I’ll be the one to step up and say this was on me at the end of the day. I will appreciate anyone who wants to take the role of consultant or who wants to be informed as decisions are made. I need to make a decision by the end of the month, so please have a say before then!”
Never leave a conversation saying, “It seems we’re unaligned, let’s continue this next week.” If time is running low, switch gears and get the group to propose next steps that will lead to consensus (or go ahead and make the proposal). An example of this might be to gather feedback in a survey or written format in order to address the data and come to a decision on your own time.
If there is no clear path of action to achieve consensus, the accountable person will need to step in as a decision maker and participants in the conversation will need to disagree and commit.
To wrap it up, unclear needs, timelines, and roles in decision-making lead to waffling decision processes. Clearly define the type of decision that needs to happen so participants are starting the conversation with the same goal in mind. Tailor meeting attendee lists according to the “circle of influence,” articulate the role participants are expected to play, and keep the meeting focused towards the specific goal at hand. When appropriate, invite anyone who is passionate about the topic to be a part of the discussion – this will drive engagement across the organization and a sense of freedom to contribute anywhere an employee feels their contribution matters. Define accountability from the onset so there is a way to “tie break” and keep the conversation moving forward when needed. And never leave another meeting again with “another meeting” as the only action step!
Interested in reading more? Check out How to interject in meetings.