Leadership, planning, Teamwork

Meetings Revisited

Recently a friend observed, “Sometimes all we do in a meeting planned to produce useful output is just talk”.  It reminded me of an article I wrote a long time ago on the subject with some specific pointers.  They still sound useful after fifteen years.

WHY HOLD ONE AT ALL?

Start with a planning mind map or list. The first branch to place on your map is the reason for holding the meeting in the first place. Imagine the meeting as a finished entity. What happened? What results were accomplished? What are the next steps? If you don’t find immediate answers to these questions, consider why you are holding the meeting at all. There may be better ways to deal with the issue at hand. Perhaps you need to speak to one person, not an entire group. Perhaps the meeting could be better accomplished by a telephone conference call or an online conference, particularly if the participants live in different cities. If your main purpose is to convey information, it might be better to simply send a memo.  If you are making an important announcement, why not throw a party? Before you call the meeting, decide the appropriateness of holding it at all.

SET THE STAGE

If you are going to proceed, compare a meeting to a theatrical presentation. There is action in three parts of the theater, — backstage, main stage and in the lobby following the show. The backstage effort, — the gathering of the props, the rehearsal of the scene, the preparation of the program are going to determine the overall success of the performance.  Start your visual map with a branch that includes the participants. Follow by mapping the agenda items. Put them down as fast as they come to you in random order and get them all down on the page.  Look at which items are simple and straightforward, which are controversial,  and which involve the whole group.  Look at who should report on the various issues and who might present the topics.

Now it is time to order this raw material and put it into a clearer order and time frame. Decide on the duration of the meeting. Confirm who needs to attend.  Decide on the order of the items on the agenda.  It is well to warm up on non-controversial items and place the most contentious issue in the middle. It is also a good idea to follow the controversial issue with a neutral one, or deliberately delay decisions on the items following the controversial issues, so that opponents won’t use the remainder of the meeting to seek revenge for past action and kill each other off.

Decide on the resources that you will need for the meeting. Do you need a projector or flip chart? Do you need background papers or other references?  Insofar as possible, send the agenda and its attached documents to the participants well in advance of the date.  Encourage participants to read all reference materials in advance.  Otherwise you are going to convene a meeting of readers, whose faces will never rise during the meeting because they are buried in reference documents. How can there possibly be any useful contribution on any issue if the meeting is the first time people know anything about it?

Now it is time to move to center stage. Choose your meeting room carefully.  If possible, get a room with good natural light. Pay attention to ventilation and temperature because these are vital to the energy of the people attending the meeting. It is important to bar interruptions. Deactivate the phone in the room and ensure cell phones are in a bucket in the centre of the table..  Place a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door.

Provide the proper materials.  Make sure that any additional printouts and reference materials are available for each participant. Have a flip chart with markers of the appropriate size at the ready. If you really want to stimulate the participants, provide them with bright markers and highlighters. If money is no object, equip the room with an electronic white board.

ON WITH THE SHOW

“I’ve been on a calendar, but never on time.

— Marilyn Monroe

Start the meeting promptly.  Don’t penalize those who arrived on time by waiting for the latecomers.  Don’t interrupt the proceedings to acknowledge the latecomers and bring them up to date. You’re simply reinforcing their tardy behaviour and making it acceptable.

If you are the chairman, it is your responsibility to control the process.  Your meeting agenda  is a constant reminder of the material that you have to cover. You will need to worry less about the talkative participant who will have always plenty to say when you have the big picture in front of you. If you are smart, you may have already asked the most garrulous or the most bothersome member of the group to take notes. Balance participation by inviting the quieter ones to comment. Often their contributions will be more worthwhile than those of the chatty types. Summarize the proceedings as you go. Emphasize the positive and show appreciation for all contributions.

MAP THE MINUTES

Use the briefest possible format outlining results – avoid summarizing the discussion unless points made will be useful at a later date.  What is to be done? Who will do it? When will it be done? Don’t provide any more content than necessary.  You want participants to spend their time on the necessary follow-up, not on reading.

BE YOUR OWN BEST CRITIC

Evaluate each meeting.  What went right? What went wrong? Who participated? Who was silent throughout? What feedback did you receive? Be prepared to spend time following up with participants who have concerns arising from the meeting. Be prepared to hear from those who said little during the meeting because something was probably upsetting them.

Last, but not least, keep good records.  Visual maps provide excellent recall of what happened and can be reviewed quickly. If you have a number of memos and minutes for an organization, a committee or a department, consider keeping the documents in a three ring binder rather than in flat files. That way it will be easier to retrieve the documents you need.

THE SHOW MUST GO ON

  The last meeting’s minutes always provide the starting point for the next.  Start the cycle by reviewing your previous map agenda and minutes and see where you stand on the issues which were addressed. Some matters may have been delayed and need to get back on the agenda.  Some need review. Some persons need to be commended for their achievements.  Others need to be reminded of reports that should be made. Using this process as your planning tool will really get your show on the road.

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mind mapping, planning, Reflection, Robert Fritz, Sample Tools, VisiMap, writing

MY PERSONAL TOOL BOX

My personal tool box

Over the years I’ve always had a tool box in the closet like the big one pictured above.  It’s pretty basic – a screwdriver with a variety of heads, a hammer, some picture wire, some duct tape.  Any heavy jobs require assistance from a family member or professional.

But my personal organizational tool box contains some good ones which vary as I acquire more and more digital technology.  The contents here really makes a difference.

First of all – paper journals – even though paper sounds out of date.  Recently I recycled about 25 from past lives pondered and agonized about.  If I were a novelist they might have been fodder for a set of future neurotics , but dipping into them revealed somebody who was self-absorbed and rather silly. No doubt the journal I am filling now will seem the same way later.  But I do find it essential to record what’s on my mind.  A journal gets the ideas and problems out there from inside.  It can be reviewed, laughed at or cried over later when I have better perspectives.  I keep these hand written journals for a while – but not forever.  Sometimes I have a look and copy the best notes from reading or personal insight into another one and those journals are longer keepers.

In addition to the big journal – usually black – and Moleskine or a comparable cheaper brand with a bookmark and an elastic –  I have a couple of other books.  One is for ideas for blogs and things get written down if and when they come to me – (it contained the suggestion of this article among other things).  The third one is a notebook for taking notes at meetings or seminars.  I prefer to do this by hand – and try to capture the main ideas with verbatim phrases or even mind maps.  I’ll later transfer the contents to a report if they are something like minutes and meant to be shared.  Generally people who take notes during meetings capture nearly everything but don’t take the additional step of reflecting on what matters in the content.

Second – Synchronized stuff.  We move between laptops, tablets and smart phones and we need to have it all in hand and as portable as possible.  If I need reference material for a meeting, I’ll want to have it available when and where I need it.  A recent meeting had an advance portfolio of over 500 pages.  I had the option of reading it onsite on a tablet by either using wi-fi or a previously uploaded copy. In another situation I needed the combination to open a safe.  It was in a Gmail folder in message saved to a folder three months earlier.

Third – Mind Mapping.  I’ve been a mind mapper since a son responded in the early nineties by giving me Tony Buzan’s The Mind Map Book for Christmas.  He had heard me complain about a client‘s proposal.  As an arts consultant at the time I was helping plan a major civic arts facility housing performing, visual and media arts.  There was a lot of blue sky thinking and it was our role to introduce a few clouds.  Suddenly there was talk of taking one of the three components out of the plan without understanding the financial effect on operating revenue.  “If only there were a way to show how one change affects everything else – but on one page,”  I wailed.

Mind mapping does that.  I later went down to Palm Beach and became a Buzan certified trainer, but you can actually learn mind mapping in 10 minutes here. Hand maps can be visually beautiful and works of art.  Digital maps have the advantage of reordering and restructuring with ease.  Either technique organizes and structures your thinking.  That’s how this article started and got organized in a very few minutes using Mind mapping software called VisiMap.

Fourth – Graphic Tools.  For any long term plan or project, you have to use something to see the big picture as well as the details.  Most of us think both logically and intuitively and have a preference for one or the other.  We’re exposed to a growing number of messages and an infinite number of words.  When someone says, “Do I have to draw you a picture?” out of frustration, they may be indeed on the right track.  There are many examples of digital canvasses and some of these like Canvanizer are now available for collaborative use.  They are a simple way of uniting those with different ways to think because they combine the textual and the visual and relationships among the components are easier to see.

I also invented a hand written to-do format combining Robert Fritz‘s calendar idea and post-it notes.  In one of his books Fritz  he suggests ranges  for things that have to be done in columns – within one day, two days, three days, five days and two weeks.  It helps see life in a bigger frame and you can even do some stuff earlier if you have time.  Very small post-its are great to write the tasks – and I keep those that tend to repeat – like “pay credit card’ or “prepare meeting agenda” – I just throw the one-time ones away and it feels even better than stroking them off a list.

Fifth – Password Savers.  My current password count is 86. The list might be missing a few or have some that should be deleted.  I still have a small paper book where I wrote these down and had to look them up frequently – until I discovered that there is software that stores all of them securely and can access any of them. Basically all I have to remember now is one – which will allow me to keep all the others on file and synchronize them to my other devices.  It’s really fun to see them automatically open anything from bank accounts to online courseware – and that pause even gives a few seconds to relax and reflect.

Sixth – for now – because there will always be more to explore – Subscription Collectors.  We sign up for things all the time – and then forget about them.  Suddenly our mail boxes are jammed with incoming distractions.  Suddenly an hour has past and we forget what we came to the in-box for in the first place.  We don’t want to give subscriptions up entirely – but we have met the enemy – and it is us.  I used to put incoming ones in a Gmail folder called @Parking-lot with the intention of looking at them on Friday afternoon.  I would usually forget to look – and then after a month there were more than 100 things to read and I tended to delete the whole lot of them –  time saved perhaps, but also opportunities lost to learn anything.  Then I discovered an app called unroll.me which first checks out what I have subscribed to – all 87 of them –  and allows me to clean out my list.  Then it asks me when I would like to look at incoming mail – morning, afternoon or evening.  After that, it lets me choose a list or a graphic format for all the entries and sends me the whole lot once a day at my preferred time.  This allows a better balance between attending to what has to be done – and still exploring new things at an appropriate time.

These serve me well and I’ll keep using them for now.  What’s in your tool-box?

 

 

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Creating, effectiveness, Innovation, John Cleese, planning

So how did it go?

Yesterday I wrote about and illustrated Cleese’s creative process and then took up the challenge of following it.  So how did it go? In a word – badly.  That was the judgment at the end of this trial run.  When one follows Cleese’s pattern of operation

  • He suggests that one provide Space – freedom from all distractions. The space was provided, but not immediately.
  • Time –  the time followed exactly the pattern of step three where one sits down, but instead is distracted to do other things – I ended up doing a number of things to clear the time so that it would be unimpeded –  and that was basically dishonest
  • Time – Once started, I found myself charging in too fast – probably in response to steps one and two above
  • Confidence – I started with too much and then noted it waned as I proceeded, instead of the other way around
  • Humour – comes more slowly. I stopped after nearly an hour and a half and accepted that I had ruined the original drawing. The light of day confirms that impression.

So the choice now is give up or keep going

  • I’ll go the second route.  After all, this project was the second try on the subject.  Sometimes it takes more than one – and learning as one goes. It’s not about perfection – it’s just about better.  This time it isn’t about drawing.  It’s about learning the process.  Stay tuned.
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Benjamin Zander, effectiveness, planning, Teamwork

Rule #6

Rule number sis I’ll won’t comment on the length of time between posts and just get on with Ben Zander’s next chapter. It’s called Rule Number Six.

He relates the story of the company president who asked interrupting employees to remember this rule. A visitor was impressed and asked what it was. The president replied ” Don’t take yourself so g-damn seriously” The visitor thought this was an excellent rule and wondered what the others were “There aren’t any!’ came the reply.

It’s a good reminder for all of us. We become wrapped up in our own worlds, taking offence when we are interrupted or when our views meet disagreement head on. Many years ago I worked for a president who took herself very seriously. The issue was a name change of a choral organization and the discussion had gone on much too long. We were looking at the acronym since all organizations seem to like calling themselves by their initials. Ontario Choral Association sounded too much like the Ontario College of Art. Ontario Association of Choirs sounded too much like the funding body, Ontario Arts Council. A wag at the other end of the table started circulating a memo by hand and each reader collapsed into repressed giggles. It finally came to me and I did the same. I was sitting beside the president who was in the chair. Should I pass it on? I did – and the discussion ended. The suggestion was “Federation of Upper Canada Choirs”.

Humour has a wonderful way of bringing us back to earth. In any discussion our over-involvement in our own immediate perspective can work against us. Rule #6 can help us with that.

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Assessment, Creativity, HBDI, HBDI Assessments, Innovation, planning, teams, Technology

Kinect – and the HBDI

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Before Microsoft could develop “Kinect Adventures,” the game that ships with Kinect for Xbox 360, it had to get innovative with its design process. For that, Microsoft Game Studios and the Good Science Studio team turned to Herrmann International’s Whole Brain® Thinking approach to assemble the right team, generate the best ideas and develop a product that would appeal to everyone, not just the traditional gamer audience.

“Microsoft’s goal was to create the Kinect pack-in title with broad appeal and something for everyone,” says Ann Herrmann-Nehdi, CEO of Herrmann International. “And in that way, it’s fitting that ‘Kinect Adventures’ is the first time a Whole Brain® framework and Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument® (HBDI®) data has been applied to the product development process from start to finish.”

“Based on the research, we know that innovative design requires a Whole Brain® process and team,” Herrmann-Nehdi says. “We also know that we live in a Whole Brained world. So if you want to appeal to a broad audience, you have to first understand how different people think.”

Shannon Loftis, head of the Good Science Studio, brought in Herrmann International consultants to work with the team as soon as the project began. To ensure all thinking styles were represented as they staffed up to meet development needs, the team was structured based on the results of the 120-question HBDI® assessment, which evaluates and describes the degree of preference individuals have for thinking in each of the four brain quadrants, as depicted by the Herrmann Whole Brain® Model.

The Whole Brain® Model also served as a filter for evaluating every aspect of the game as it was being developed. During the consumer testing phase, the team used criteria based on the each of the thinking styles (analytical, organized, interpersonal and strategic) to make sure the activities and game elements would have broad appeal.

“Our research has shown that you can use clues to diagnose the thinking styles of potential customers and then identify product features and benefits that will appeal to different preferences,” Herrmann-Nehdi says. “The development of ‘Kinect Adventures’ is a great example because they took this approach and used it to produce something that really is for everyone.”

Microsoft Game Studios believes that from the way “Kinect Adventures” was designed to the features it showcases, the Whole Brain® Thinking approach helped them create entertainment for a Whole Brained consumer base, just as intended.

Herrmann International is the originator of Whole Brain® Technology and the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument® (HBDI®). Founded in 1981 on research into how thinking preferences can affect performance, the company develops Whole Brain® products and solutions that help organizations better understand and engage internal and external customers, get more from their collective intelligence, and achieve a significant competitive advantage.

With Whole Brain® Thinking and the HBDI® – the highly validated assessment tool used by nine out of 10 of the Fortune 100 – clients gain a proven, practical method of harnessing the brainpower of the entire organization to improve productivity, creativity, teamwork, sales and other business results. Clients include American Express, BMW, Cisco, GE, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, Shell Oil, US Navy and Wharton School of Business. More information: http://www.hbdi.com. You can also find out more about it at our website

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Creating, Creativity, HBDI, Innovation, planning

Ready for Halloween?

The folks at Herrmann International certainly are. Here is how your HBDI profile shapes up in terms of all four quadrants. Better get a little of all these quadrants into your preparaion whatever your actual thinking preferences. After all, the game is to use each one in the appropriate situation, and you will benefit from all of them.

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Creating, effectiveness, Innovation, planning, Reflection, Robert Genn

NJA

Robert Genn is a highly successful visual artist who has written a twice weekly newsletter for many years. Recently when he was painting on Moraine Lake in the Rockies, some American visitors noticed him and remarked that his style was very like the celebrated artist Robert Genn. Had he ever heard of him? Yes, he thought he had and actually thought he might still be alive.

But today in response to a visual artist who complained about her addiction to internet images, he offers some advice for artists of life as well as other media:

“It’s all about procrastination. Hanging out at a cabaret or hanging on to a computer, artists will do anything to avoid going to their room and going to work. Fear of failure and fear of success are just two of the issues that lead to escapism. With the quality and variety on the Internet, today’s painters face a hazard like never before.

Net Junkies are the new alcoholics. Artists who allow the Internet to take them where it will, throw in the towel of creative individualism. Too much non-directed exposure to the work of others humbles, discourages, and sullies our own best efforts. The result, if you stay at it long enough, can be rudderless dilettantism. But there’s help. It’s called NJA.

Net Junkies Anonymous knows that artists procrastinate in the name of research. They get hooked. The solution is to make research a process-driven activity. It starts with the easel station. Attend to your easel before you go near your machine. As you think of your needs, put notes beside your easel. Let your work tell you what you need to study. When the time is appropriate, take your list to the machine. Be efficient and cagey. The Internet is a great slave but also a cunning master. You have to go there on your own terms.”

And yes, of course I allow Robert’s regular communications to enter my world. But it is very rare when they are not worthwhile. You can catch him at the Painters Keys or on Facebook.

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