THUNDER BAY, ON - March 1, 2011 - Of the 10 meetings you attend each week, how much time do you invest in productive exchange vs useless rehashing? How can you shift the ratio from unfocussed and meaningless to relevant and necessary?
The answer is all about the questions that are asked around the table. Better meetings showcased by intriguing and fact filled dialogue result in the right decisions for the right reasons for the right bottom line.
My point is, meetings cost money. A lot of money. Add up the salaries of everyone at the table, the cost of the room, the coffees and lunches, the mileage and even the time it takes to write and distribute agendas and reports. Is this investment worth the result?
If you’re already thinking, “No, it’s a simple waste of time”, then you might consider the role of questions in transforming the essence of your meeting.
If you’re game for an experiment to conduct during eachof your meetings in the next week, take along a self-made score sheet and be prepared to listen.
(a) Record the questions each person asks. Divide these into three categories:
1. The grade six grammar “open probes”, starting with the W’s (who what when where how and why)
2. The questions that end in “yes” or “no” answers
3. And the summary type questions, such as “so what you’re saying is....?”
(b) Analyze. Which questions were the most effective? Did everyone have a turn? Who took over the meeting; who has the power and who has influence? How meaningful were the questions in moving the dialogue forward to an end result? Did the questions actually relate to the Agenda? Who are the wind-bags and who summarizes well? Did anyone create laughter?
At times, the obvious question just needs to be asked. Typically, decision making is based on assumptions. Assumptions can lead to flawed solutions. Questions clarify. Did Lois Lane ever ask Superman if he knew Clark Kent?
Apparently, Albert Einstein’s mother Pauline asked her little dyslexic genius, “What good questions did you ask today?”. She’s the kind of meeting participant I’d like to have at the next strategic planning event.
Questions, carefully designed, can bring out the best in people. Questions are at the heart of employee engagement: commitment, truth, integrity and innovation. They are the foundation of dialogue, especially when they are aimed at gathering more information. Try “Tell me about...” as a substitute for “who, what, when, where, how”.
Eliminate “why”. Why? People get defensive instantly.
If your organization is continuously being challenged by budget restraints, there’s a better solution than cutting the cost of coffee and cookies. Do you really need to meet? Would a 15 minute stand-up “huddle” accomplish more than a one hour “jail sentence”? If it’s only discussion and information, go virtual. When it’s input, decision and action, come together face to face.
Finally, look to the structure and dynamics of your meetings, specifically how your conversations happen. Who is asking what, for what purpose?
Ask each other what’s important, and better still, what’s most important? The right questions will lead to the right people, making the right decisions, for the right reasons, at the right time for the right results. Albert Einstein’s mother seemed to be onto something, didn’t she!
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Maggie Chicoine is a Master Coach, experienced facilitator and professional writer who contributes “The Tuesday File” to Lake Superior News weekly. Reach her at 1 800 587 1767 or email@example.com.
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