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Meetings Worth Attending

"It was like stepping onto one of those moving sidewalks at the airport and getting jerked forward" 

That's how quality manager Mike C. described his reaction to starting structured – unstructured (SUS) meetings. 

"I had always had team meetings before and followed a prepared agenda. They went well and helped me manage the department. But SUS meetings were a quantum jump ahead."

SUS meetings are the next step after the traditional stand-up meetings that help groups manage their daily work. Traditionally, the agenda for stand-up meetings address three questions: What did you do yesterday? What will you be doing today? And What roadblocks would keep you from accomplishing those goals? Typically, the meetings last less than 15 minutes and make sure that the department addresses the daily objectives.

SUS meetings take that to the next level. They don't replace stand-up meetings, but they add to them.

A typical SUS meeting also starts with three questions: What do we want to accomplish this quarter? How will we do that? And What will it take to get us there?

"There are only two reasons to hold a meeting: to make decisions, or to create action items. Everything else can be done off-line"

SUS meetings accept that top management sets the corporate direction and strategic goals, but, doesn't create detailed plans. It's like they are driving and come up to road construction. They have to take another route, but that route isn't as well mapped as the current one. Unfortunately, when that happens, the rest of us often question their leadership.

To that point, I'm reminded of the complaint of one staffer who said, "Management just cut 20% of our department and doubled our workload with new projects. How do they expect us to accomplish that?" The simple answer is, "They don't know. They realize that these changes are necessary for survival. Figuring out how to do it is our job!"

So, the SUS meeting is based on figuring out how to do it. But it isn't only as a reaction to surprise organizational detours. The overall strategy provides general direction without specifics. For example, the strategy may be to enter a new market, develop a new product line, cut costs, or address growing competition. Those goals leave a lot of room for creative solutions. Creative solutions, by definition, require the input of those who know most about how to accomplish the overall goals. That is, creative solutions require team input. No one manager is ever better than the team at coming up with creative ideas.

At one company where we implemented the SUS meetings, we skipped thetraditional note taking and minutes writing and put everything on a large white-board. Our goals, approaches, tasks, and eventually our accomplishments remained on permanent display. This took care of the communications issue and cut back on the daily 1-2 hour "management planning" meetings to a weekly, and then a semi-weekly 30-minute session.

Inherent in the approach was the dictum: "Meetings have only two purposes: First to make decisions, and second, to establish action items." During the transition from daily meetings to weekly, and then semi-weekly SUS meetings, enterprising attendees would often get us back on track by asking whether we were making a decision or establishing action items. Surprisingly, it was often the younger, more recent hires that brought the team back on track.

"In our department, we were charged with developing new processes that would eliminate some of the perpetual problems bugging us. The specifics on the problems aren't important, everywhere I've been, I've faced similar problems. But the SUS meetings forced us to acknowledge them, make them visible with the white-boards, and keep up the progress." Then, Mike added, "They worked! They kept us moving! They made a difference!"

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Sunday, 20 August 2017