Scope creep wreaks havoc on projects and decision-making. Meetings also spin out of control because the leader allows the co-mingling of strategic, operational, AND tactical issues. Each deserves a different approach, preparation, and decision-making. Do NOT allow your meetings to jump back and forth between different issue types.
Many people spend a large portion of the workday attending meetings. Strive to understand the clear purpose of the meeting and what it needs to deliver. All meetings affect decision-making, or they should not be held. While many meetings appear innocuous, such as staff meetings, people take their learnings and make new decisions based on new information. All meetings should impact decision-making or the power of choice.
Decision-making and Strategy (Planning) Issues
The input of a strategy session makes clear WHY something is important and the output becomes WHAT we are going to do about it. Most planning sessions are “strategic” to the needs of the group attending because the output is WHO does WHAT.
Most academic approaches strongly encourage a SWOT analysis to lead to consensual understanding about WHAT a group of people needs to do to reach their goals (fuzzy) and objectives (SMART). A thorough SWOT analysis takes hours, not minutes.
Do NOT allow for a discussion of strategic issues during operational updates and other meetings that are organized primarily to share information. Take the strategy issues that arise, document them clearly, and set them aside for discussion during a true planning session, when enough time is allowed to digest complex topics.
Likewise, do NOT allow the group to dive into too many details if you are completing strategy or analysis work. Keep the discussion in the abstract (eg, accelerate vehicle). If the discussion becomes too concrete (eg, foot on the pedal), you risk incomplete planning or analysis. Do not allow discussions about HOW activities will be performed when the purpose of the meeting is to establish WHAT needs to be done (eg, acceleration).
Decision-making and Operational (Analysis) Issues
Problem-solving might be separated into problems requiring immediate attention and long-range problems that require a complex and perhaps cultural change. Most “immediate” problems focus on satisfying stakeholders at the expense of the supplier or supply chain. Long-term problems lack a sense of urgency resulting in lengthy discussions that remain on topic, but lead to shallow or unclear deliverables. Structure provides help for analysis meetings.
Most operational support meetings lack structure. Problem solving provides a decent example. Participants frequently commit the bias of “solving”. They jump from the problem to the solution and skip the critical step of analysis. For example, if we jump from symptoms to cures, there is likelihood we will miss something. If however, we structure the meeting to understand all of the possible causes of the symptom and focus discussion on the cause and not the symptom, we will not likely miss something significant. In requirements gathering for example, “poor requirements” are not typically gathered as wrong requirements; rather, they are “poor” because of the things we missed.
Decision-making and Tactical (Design) Issues
When pushed into the concrete details of staffing, purchasing, or other work methods, separate the decision criteria from the options. Groups are capable of making higher quality decisions than the smartest person in the group because:
- Representing diverse stakeholder interests generates more robust criteria
- By using diverse subject matter experts, we increase the likelihood that their understanding of causal relationships (ie, cause and effect) will be captured,
- Groups create more options than aggregating individuals and more options is directly linked to higher quality decisions.
Decision-making and Leadership Role
Do not forget to understand your role, style, and relationship when using groups to support decision-making. When you intend to advocate for a specific decision, have someone else facilitate the session. If you are untrained professionally, and the issue is complicated, complex, or politically charged, someone else should facilitate. If you begin as facilitator, but someone else emerges as commanding group respect (typically because they exude neutrality), consider turning the session over to them.
Be prudent, no one wants more meetings. They only want results.
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