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Davis Balestracci


Six Secrets for Productive Meetings

Do the math... including your current return on this investment

Published: Tuesday, November 17, 2015 - 15:59

“When I die, let it be in a meeting. The transition from life to death will be barely perceptible.”

Today I’m going to share some ideas from an always-thoughtful newsletter written by Steve Harden of LifeWings—a company of pilots who use aviation ideas to create cultures of safety in healthcare. Despite the healthcare bias, these ideas can easily be adapted to any environment as you think about your jobs as improvement leaders.

Harden offered these data:
• The average hospital spends $1.7 million per year on meetings.
• 86 percent of healthcare leaders surveyed said their meetings are a waste of time.

Quint Studer, author of Hardwiring Excellence (Firestarter Publishing, 2004) and Results That Last (Wiley, 2007), says to think of meetings as “rehearsals for a play, or a timeout during a competitive game.” As the leader (or director of the play) you can’t produce a play that anyone will want to watch if all the actors show up at different times, and everyone has a different script.

Especially as a supervisor or manager (“coach”), you can’t make the needed adjustments without calling an effective timeout that provides some on-the-spot coaching for your “players.”

How many of the meetings that you attend are ineffective, or worse, a complete waste of time? Would your co-workers agree? What if you had a reputation for running effective, productive meetings?

Your organization can neither win nor produce its desired safety, quality, or financial results if your coaches can’t run an effective meeting with their direct reports.

Data from the Harvard School of Public Health conclude that meeting time is largely wasted time. Healthcare management and leadership spend as much as 5.5 hours a day in meetings, representing the single largest expenditure of time for those highly compensated individuals.

And don’t forget the cost of data INsanity in many of these meetings: 50 percent of the time executives spend in meetings involving data is waste. Some research estimates that on average, it costs a hospital $1,400 to hold a one-hour meeting.

Do the math... including your current return on this investment.

What if there could be a deeply ingrained organizational belief that effective meetings are mission critical?

Harden suggests six secrets to good meetings that drive good outcomes:
1. Block out no-meeting periods. Establish no-meeting zones—of up to two hours—where no meetings can be scheduled throughout the organization.
2. Schedule meeting buffer zones. Reduce all one-hour meetings to 50 minutes—allowing time to get to other meetings or to check emails and return calls between meetings.
3. Train and certify meeting leaders. Because meetings cost at least $1,400 per hour, one must be trained to run a meeting and to be empowered to call one. Don’t allow people to run meetings and take vast amounts of time and resources with absolutely no preparation or training.
4. Financially justify every scheduled meeting. Leaders must provide the business case for having a meeting, and justify the need for all the people who are there. Research shows that at most meetings, at least one-third of the people involved don’t need to be there, don’t know why they’re there, or why they should be there. During planning, the meeting organizer could even calculate the potential cost of each meeting and ask, “What will be the return on this investment?” and the bigger challenge, “What ‘big dot’ in the boardroom will be affected by the results of this meeting?”
5. Don’t meet. Huddle. Use “huddles” that last 15 minutes. Use a regular agenda to tackle daily business within a defined department or area. Make everyone stand during the huddle. Huddles are also good for quick dissemination of important one-way information.
6. Never meet without a standardized meeting model. Every leader throughout the organization should use the same meeting model for every supervisory meeting with their direct reports. If you want your organization to be aligned, your supervisory meetings must be aligned.

Here’s another surprising tool for building frontline worker engagement

Meetings that waste your time destroy your organization’s ability to achieve its desired results. If you don’t want bad results, Harden offers a free download tool with some tips to avoid bad meetings and make the most of every one.

Notice that one of the tips is “Discuss thank you notes.” Every transforming culture has the issue of engaging frontline employees. Studer feels that one of the most powerful tools to do this is handwritten thank you notes by leaders and managers to people who exhibit shining examples of behaviors in line with desired values and results.

Food for thought: How might the ideas in this column apply to your roles as improvement leaders, both to your departments and to the culture at large?

Good meetings = good results.

Until next time...


About The Author

Davis Balestracci’s picture

Davis Balestracci

Davis Balestracci is a past chair of ASQ’s statistics division. He has synthesized W. Edwards Deming’s philosophy as Deming intended—as an approach to leadership—in the second edition of Data Sanity (Medical Group Management Association, 2015), with a foreword by Donald Berwick, M.D. Shipped free or as an ebook, Data Sanity offers a new way of thinking using a common organizational language based in process and understanding variation (data sanity), applied to everyday data and management. It also integrates Balestracci’s 20 years of studying organizational psychology into an “improvement as built in” approach as opposed to most current “quality as bolt-on” programs. Balestracci would love to wake up your conferences with his dynamic style and entertaining insights into the places where process, statistics, organizational culture, and quality meet.