It’s unfortunate but true: The further you progress in your career, the more meetings you go to. While some are productive, many are disorganized, inefficient, and distracting. It’s also hard to check off your other work tasks when you’re constantly going from meeting to meeting.The solution is obvious: Reduce your meetings according to Aja Frost.
Tools for Effective Brainstorming – Save your valuable ideas. Your team has spent the last three hours in a meeting trying to make a decision about your latest promotional campaign. If you were being politically correct, you’d say the group had reached an impasse – if you were being brutally honest, you’d admit that leaping across the boardroom table and garroting the graphic artist is an increasingly feasible course of action.
We’ve all been there – trapped in a never-ending meeting with attendees who’ve reverted to veiled insults, snooty silences and blind stubbornness. You may have wondered why some meetings have the ability to transform seasoned business professionals into bratty children. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the formula for meeting mayhem. Essentially, you’re taking a group of professionals with vastly different experiences, opinions, and beliefs, cramming them into a boardroom and asking them to reach a consensus on a difficult decision in 50 minutes or less. It’s mutiny waiting to happen.
To retain some sense of workplace harmony, you need to structure potentially confrontational meetings differently. The following strategies will minimize meeting mutiny and speed up decision-making in your company.
Opinion vs. Fact
Most of us are quite happy to express an opinion – whether we know what we’re talking about or not. Opinions are easy because they’re based on preconceived ideas and beliefs. Facts, on the other hand, come from external sources or experiences and require some degree of research or knowledge.
In too many conflict situations, people argue their position with opinions rather than facts. They may state their opinion as fact (especially if they have a strongly held belief), but without proof to substantiate a claim, it’s still an opinion.
To speed up your meeting, force people to argue using facts only. Without opinions getting in the way, you’ll arrive at a consensus and make decisions much more quickly.
Of course, you don’t want your meeting to resemble a get-together of the Third Reich – that will only frustrate participants and make them more likely to argue the outcome. At the beginning of the meeting, have all participants express their opinion on the subject at hand (it might help to limit each person to five minutes). Once everyone’s position is known, restrict the remainder of the discussion to factual statements only.
Conflict vs. Disagreement
It’s important to differentiate between conflict and disagreement. Disagreements are healthy. They force the group to consider different options and select the most viable course of action. Conflict, however, is dangerous because it implies an emotional component. When people form an emotional attachment to a certain issue, project or strategy, they’re unlikely to back down from their position. It’s much harder to reach a resolution if someone is going to be emotionally affected by the outcome.
So how do you stop a disagreement from turning into a conflict? Behave like a consummate professional. Don’t attack anyone on a personal level. Avoid nasty comments, malicious digs, and veiled insults. Be forthright and honest about your opinions and confine them strictly to work – not to anyone’s character.
Expression vs. Repression
In the interest of time, it’s tempting to exclude key people from the decision-making process – especially if their involvement may cause conflict. But if people feel their opinion wasn’t solicited, they’re more likely to object to the project on principle, making it more time-consuming in the long run to finish the project. Everyone wants to be part of the process – by giving people the chance to express their opinion early on, you’re more likely to have their buy-in for the duration of the project.
With the SMART Board, information written on the Board’s surface can be saved to a computer file. This functionality ensures that your ideas will not be lost and can be accessed and reviewed at any time. Saving your ideas to a computer file also eliminates the need for individual note-taking during the session and leaves brainstorming participants focused on idea-generation.
Record Ideas Quickly
Although we know the pace of brainstorming sessions should be fast, it’s sometimes difficult to record the ideas as quickly as they’re being generated. Using a pen from the SMART Pen Tray, the facilitator can write the group’s ideas on the SMART Board. Even better, if there is a quick typist in the group, he has the option of typing the information onto the screen instead of handwriting it.
Keep Ideas Legible and Organized
The pace of the brainstorming session can be so quick that the facilitator has difficulty keeping the ideas legible and organized on the page. Because any notes written on the SMART Board are recorded as separate objects, the information can be easily rearranged or edited after the session. This makes it easy for a facilitator to clean up the notes before e-mailing or printing them for distribution to the meeting participants.
Access Brain-Stimulating Information
By using the SMART Board, you can access any computer-based information. This includes computer applications that you normally use on your desktop, multimedia materials, and the Internet. This functionality is useful for brainstorming sessions since new information can stimulate new ideas.
SMART Meeting Pro and Brainstorming
Meeting Pro is meeting information management software that works with the SMART Board to help you collect, organize and archive meeting information. Rapid-Fire Brainstorming is a feature of Meeting Pro that’s useful for intense brainstorming sessions. Enter text-based notes quickly and easily, and your ideas are ordered neatly on the page. Or, use the Auto-Shrink feature to automatically shrink your handwritten ideas so more ideas can fit on each page.
Aja Frost suggests the following strategies that’ll help you have efficient meetings and cut out the inefficient ones:
Block Time for Important Tasks
Have a recurring event for “Writing” every day from 8 to 10 A.M. In effect, no one can book you for those two hours.
Blocking time on your calendar is a great way to reduce meetings and ensure you have time for your priorities. Maybe you prefer to answer emails after lunch, so you block off 1 to 2 P.M. for “Answering emails”—or you know from experience you can’t focus in the evening, so you reserve 5:30 to 6 P.M. for “Administrative tasks.”
Don’t want your coworkers to know why you’re unavailable? Google Calendar lets you change the visibility of individual events. To make yours private, follow these instructions. You can also simply name the event “Do not book” or “Busy.”
Propose a “No Meetings” Day
Many companies dedicate one day per week to pure work—in other words, no meetings allowed.
If you’ve got enough authority to start a regular “No Meetings” day, here are a couple suggestions:
Be vigilant about enforcing the policy. When a few employees break the rule and have a covert meeting, the entire concept loses its power. Before you know it, everyone will be having meetings on “No Meetings” day.
Consider making this a monthly, rather than weekly, occurrence. This cadence is more realistic. The executive team can’t meet either. You have to set the standard.
If you’re an individual contributor or the manager of a single team, you can still propose a day for zero meetings. Explain to your supervisor why it’s a good idea to reduce meetings and how you plan on implementing this day. You might become your coworkers’ new favorite person.
Learn How to Decline
Professionals often assume they’re required to go to every meeting. However, the sooner you learn to graciously decline, the more productive you’ll ultimately be.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should start turning down invitations left and right. Ask yourself, “Will I add value or learn something?” If the answer is no, tell the organizer you can’t attend.
Ask for an Agenda
If you frequently receive requests to “pick your brain,” “learn about your path,” or “get your career advice,” you’ve probably been the victim of far too many wandering or unfocused conversations. Some people set up informational interviews without thinking about what they’ll ask when they get there.
It’s frustrating to agree to help someone only to end up wasting 30 minutes.
To avoid this, tell interview hopefuls you’re happy to meet—but ask for a meeting agenda beforehand.
Propose an Alternative
People often default to meetings when they need to discuss something, exchange information, or ask a question. If there’s a reason to talk—but a full-fledged meeting isn’t necessary—reduce your meetings by offering an alternative like Online Mind Mapping for meetings, which is an App for meetings, an example is MindMeister an online mind mapping tool that lets you capture, develop and share ideas visually.
For example, if your coworker sends you a meeting invitation to brainstorm ideas for an upcoming project, you might recommend creating a mind map. Adding your ideas independently will save you valuable time, until then the power is yours.