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Ken Levine

Quality Insider

Recycling Your Meeting Waste

Good meetings are good for business

Published: Monday, January 16, 2006 - 22:00

Lean Six Sigma and other continuous improvement initiatives require effective teamwork, and effective teamwork requires good meetings. Ineffective meetings are the reason many organizations fail to improve continuously. Therefore, effective meeting management should be an integral and early part of companywide training. Lean applications in the office environment have highlighted the significant rework and waste inherent in the majority of company meetings. Some of the tools and actions suggested to improve meeting quality include:

Establishing a mission statement
Determine the purpose of the team, get a consensus, identify metrics that will help to determine if there’s a problem and how success should be measured.

Using temperament instruments
Tools such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or Keirsey Temperament Sorter help managers assess the decision-making propensities of the individuals on the team. For example, it’d be good to know that everyone on the team is predisposed to making quick judgments or that the reverse is true.

Using agendas
Communicate a detailed plan for each meeting, including who’s responsible for each agenda item, how long each agenda item will take, and the desired outcome (e.g., a decision, sharing of information only, etc.). It’s important to note that a one-way sharing of information isn’t a good reason to hold a meeting.

Establishing and scheduling team roles
Employees with roles such as leader, facilitator, scribe, timekeeper, guest, etc. are important to have. For example, it’s impossible to determine whether team members are on time without a timekeeper, and a facilitator can greatly help to keep the team on task.

Operating rules
Know how the team operates, such as the regular meeting times, the type of decision making employed, e.g., consensus, which is often confused with simple majority decisions. Consensus, though, also ensures that everyone is heard, and that everyone will actively support the decision, even if some people didn’t agree with it.

Good meeting notes
These include action registers and kaizen newsletters to document the “to-do list” for the team. The list should include what will happen, when it will happen, and who is responsible. Good meeting notes help to prevent re-work, because there’s no need to rehash previous discussions. A good action register can cumulatively keep track of who was supposed to do what by which deadline. You can use an Excel worksheet for this and review it every few meetings. This will help keep everyone accountable for their commitments.

Using a process check
It helps leaders measure meeting effectiveness and replan meetings when the group goes off the agenda. This can be accomplished at the end of a meeting with a simple polling of participants on what they liked best about the meeting and what improvements they suggest to make the meeting better, or with a more formal feedback instrument.

Using a parking board
It helps to capture important issues to be resolved in future meetings, which helps the team stay on track in the current meeting.

Identification and information
Identifying and informing all stakeholders who could be affected by a change in the process and obtaining their input throughout the process is crucial. It’s possible for all stakeholders to feel a part of the team if they’re solicited for input and kept informed. Assigning all of the key stakeholders to the team, for example, can greatly mitigate potential implementation barriers later on.

Brainstorming and ranking
Brainstorming generates many ideas without criticism. Ranking helps managers determine priorities. Bad ideas don’t require criticism because once ranked, they always fall to the bottom of the priority list.

Reviewing decisions
Reviewing decisions made before ending a meeting helps team members prioritize and realize what was decided. It’s surprising how often team members don’t realize that decisions were made in a meeting. This puts an unfair burden on the meeting scribe to make these determinations. It also gives the scribe too much power to decide what was agreed and what wasn’t.

Awareness of the importance of teamwork and meetings may lead employees to believe that lean Six Sigma is only to be pursued in teams. However, many employees receive training and don’t have the opportunity to immediately participate on lean Six Sigma teams, so they must understand that everyone is responsible for making suggestions and being proactive with lean Six Sigma methods and tools. For an organization to become lean, everyone needs to constantly improve. Teams are expensive, because they can take away from valuable production time. That’s why kaizen events and Six Sigma project-team formation that require significant investment in time, are limited to critical missions.

This is when recycling meeting waste may take place. During kaizen events or other meetings where ideas are brainstormed and ranked, the top one or two are typically selected for solution, action planning and implementation. All of the other information is lost. In fact, some of the ideas left on the table are often determined to be impossible, or are highly unlikely to be changed in the near future. However, before throwing these ideas away, it’s useful to tell all people affected by the process what can’t or won’t be changed.

A number of years ago, I became manager of purchasing systems at the Coca-Cola Co. in the United States. Shortly after accepting this position, I was told that one of my responsibilities was to host a discussion about our purchasing system at an annual manufacturing conference. As a joke, someone told me that I should be prepared and go to this event wearing a bullet-proof vest and helmet. That’s when I realized that the event had turned into a free-for-all because there were so many problems with the purchasing system.

I quickly formed a team with all of the needed stakeholders, including the purchasing, manufacturing, finance and IT departments. We conducted a focus group to identify areas of concern and then sent out a quantitative survey to all field personnel. Seventy-two—yes, 72—unique problems were identified. We then divided the problems into four categories, as follows:

  • Quick and inexpensive fixes

  • Important fixes that would take more time or more money, or both

  • Problems that would most likely never be fixed

  • Other problems

We immediately addressed the first category and had most of these opportunities resolved prior to the manufacturing conference. We also had initiated two of the most desired and beneficial long-term fixes for problems in the second category. We decided to discuss the third category at the conference, including our best knowledge of effective work-arounds for persistent problems. As we hoped, our efforts were rewarded by positive feedback at the conference. In fact, that was the last year that we had the purchasing system on the conference agenda.

Much to our surprise, one of our biggest accomplishments was communicating the can’t be resolved problems to the field. We received positive feedback from almost everyone that the honest feedback and possible work-arounds for those “can’t do” problems were greatly appreciated. Everyone was tired of hearing, “We’re working on it” on so many issues. Credibility had been lost. Now, everyone had turned their complaints into useful, proactive communication.

Meetings affect everyone. Improvements in meeting effectiveness can have significant benefits for lean Six Sigma efforts and for any organizational meetings. Make sure to emphasize effective meeting techniques in your lean Six Sigma training. Begin to identify the “can’t do” problems and communicate them to the internal customers of your processes. They’ll appreciate your honesty and begin to implement suggested work-arounds, as opposed to complaining. Recycling your meeting waste will certainly take a few points of contention off the table.


About The Author

Ken Levine’s picture

Ken Levine

Ken Levine is a Lean Six Sigma management consultant. He retired as director and lead instructor in the Lean Six Sigma certification program at Georgia State University in Atlanta in 2019. He holds a doctorate in business administration. Levine retired from The Coca-Cola Company in 2000 where he held the position of director of continuous improvement in the Coca-Cola USA division for three years. Levine is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt and Certified Purchasing Manager. He has previously published “Root Cause Analysis Takes Too Long,” “How to Determine the Worst Case for a Process,” “Recycling Your Meeting Waste”, “What Really is a Stretch Objective”, and “Ensuring LSS Success with a Robust Define Phase” in Quality Digest.

For more articles by Levine, click here.