Executives spend an average of 23 hours a week in meetings. Considering their average workweek is 47 hours, you are spending almost half your time in meetings. And yet, most executives think meetings are a total waste of time. Which not only impacts the effectiveness and productivity of the organization, it also severely impacts culture. Many studies have found that one of the most powerful factors in job satisfaction is how one feels about the effectiveness of the meetings he, she or they attends. Where employees who attend a rash of bad meetings are stressed, dissatisfied with their jobs and more predisposed to leave.1
Yet, meetings are a critical lever to leading and managing organizations. Thus, figuring out how to improve highly ineffective and dysfunctional meetings is one of the most common topics my clients want to address. They are tired of wasting so much time and walking away deeply frustrated by the dysfunction they observe on their team and without much to show for it.
While there are a great many causes of ineffective, culture-damaging and productivity sabotaging meetings, the most common (and most easily fixed) culprit I have found can be found in the agenda (or lack thereof) for the meeting.
Far too often I see a list of topics and rough timeframes to discuss or even worse, no agenda at all and my response is always to introduce and help my clients experiment with the “4 P’s framework” for developing a winning meeting agenda.
What are the 4 P’s?
4 P’s stand for Purpose, Product, Process, Participants
Purpose: The purpose is the “WHY” of the meeting. If there isn’t a clear and compelling “why” or reason for the meeting, cancel it. The purpose should leave those participating in the meeting feeling that it is a worthwhile and consequential way to spend their time.
Product: The product is the “WHAT” you produce as a result of the meeting. This might be a decision, a document, feedback on a draft, potential solutions to a problem, etc. In most cases, the product should be something that is written/codified so that all participants can see where you are landing and it is easily referenceable in the future.
Process: This is “HOW” you will produce the product and thereby achieve the purpose of the meeting. This should be the key steps you plan to take in the allotted time for the meeting. This is also where you might want to lay out any pre-reading, pre-work, or pre-thinking participants need to complete before the meeting in order to make the most of the time. This in many ways should read like the “recipe” for the product.
Participants: This is the “WHO” of the meeting. Who are the people that need to be involved and for each, what is the specific role they need to play in order to achieve the product/purpose. Meetings should only include people that have a specific and consequential role to play. If that isn’t the case, they shouldn’t be a part of the meeting.
Common Types of Meetings
- Decision Making
- Problem Solving
- Pressure Testing
- Information Sharing*
- Delegating or Coordinating Group Work or Activities
- Strategic or Operational Planning Planning (including Scenario Planning)
- Learning (e.g. After-Action-Review)
- Monitoring Performance
- Enterprise Risk Management
* Very few meetings should be for the sole purpose of information sharing. A meeting can be a worthwhile way to share information if the information is high stakes, consequential, complex/hard to digest, confidential or stress/anxiety inducing. If not, choose other methods to share the information.
Common Roles in a Meeting
|The person(s) presenting the topic, problem/dilemma, work product, decision point, etc for the group to engage in.|
Facilitator or Co-facilitators
|The person(s) responsible for ensuring the group effectively moves through the process and inclusively produces the product, thus achieving the purpose of the meeting.|
|The person(s) who the meeting is “for”. I.e. who needs to do something with the product of the meeting. They are the person that needs to make the decision the group is engaging in, or is ultimately responsible for solving the problem they are bringing to the group.|
|The person(s) who are capturing the key insights from the meeting (including next steps, owners, timelines and any key decisions that were made).|
|The person that ensures the group is moving towards the product/purpose within the defined time.|
|The person(s) that have something specific to offer in order to produce the product and achieve the purpose of the meeting.|
|The person(s) who test the viability and likely impact of the decision, strategy, solution, etc proposed as the product of the meeting. Usually because they have a unique set of insights/ proximity/ access to information that will help them best assess the potential impacts/ considerations.|
Problem Solving Meeting Illustration
There are some dysfunctional patterns that are emerging on our team. They are holding us back from being an effective team and are negatively impacting team morale. We can’t allow this to persist unaddressed because it will get worse and further erode our ability to work well together.
Today’s conversation is to do three things:
A document that:
Decision Making Meeting Illustration
I, as CEO, have to make a final decision on which new market we will expand our program to next year out of the 3 viable options our Chief Development Officer and their team have spent the past 12-18 months developing for expansion. They have put together a prospectus laying out their analysis, opportunities, risks, implications, and key operational considerations for each of the options and have shared a final recommendation.
This decision is consequential and high stakes because this is the first time we are expanding our program into a new market and comes with considerable opportunity and risk.
The decision making right we are using here is CEO makes decision with input from executive team. Thus, we will use this meeting to gather your perspective on this decision by utilizing a consultancy protocol.
There are three products:
Most clients intuitively appreciate this framework once I share it with them. It seems pretty straightforward and relatively easy to apply. And for some it is. However, I have found two common barriers with applying this framework.
- Time on Task: Applying this framework takes real time people don’t proactively carve out (especially in the beginning as you are building your fluency/skill). You can’t figure out the 4Ps for an Executive Meeting in the 5 mins between when your last external call ends and when your Exec Team meeting begins (trust me, I have tried and it REALLY doesn’t work)! While it may seem like a big commitment of time on the front end to think through and design your meeting using this framework, I would argue that it saves you exponentially more time on the backend.
- It Requires Practice: The 4Ps require you to clarify your thinking and to plan out how you will achieve the objective of the meeting. Like any skill, this takes practice and can be frustrating. Your first few 4Ps likely won’t be great. That’s ok. Keep experimenting with it. Engage your team in helping you get better at the 4Ps. Once you execute a meeting – go back and annotate your 4Ps for that meeting to see where you could have strengthened it using the benefit of hindsight. Be patient with yourself and stick with it.
Please stay tuned for future blogs in this series on effective meetings:
- Embracing an End-User Orientation
- Navigating Group Problem Solving
- Importance of having a Facilitator or Co-facilitator
- Power of Chunking
- How to Engage in Productive Conflict: Disagree… Commit… Rally…