Have you ever been in a meeting with 2 dozen people for 2 hours and noticed that, throughout the meeting, 4 or 5 people talked and everybody else was quiet? In large meetings, this is actually the norm: 20% of people are active and the rest are passive.
And have you experienced meetings with lots of people where there is a fair amount of discussion but most of the items aren’t closed? I.e., not enough decisions are made to terminate the problems being discussed?
What a waste of time, isn’t it? Think about it: 20 people for 2 hours – that’s 40 hours. Imagine this happens 10 times a week, 48 times a year… That’s 19,200 hours per year… 80% would be 15,360 hours, i.e., 8 people… That’s for 10 times a week, i.e., twice a day. What if it happens 10 times a day? That’s 40 people’s time wasted.
Nobody likes this: lots of meetings, lots of to-do lists, nothing seems to move. But why does it happen if nobody likes it?
Because processes aren’t clear, they’re not simple or they outright don’t exist…
In a process driven organization – at least my version of it – processes are clear because processes are simple. And roles are clear because roles are simple.
When a Process is simple, it’s easy to follow; thus, it works. When it’s complicated, it’s abandoned. Then, you get improvisation. Improvisation is personal and so it is not clear to most people and therefore not followed.
And that’s when huge meetings start to happen. If you don’t know how to resolve a problem, you don’t know who should be involved, so you call everybody who might need to get involved.
Complex processes and improvisation get exacerbated by roles that are not clear and are not simple. What’s a simple role? That’s easy. You do one thing, you are responsible for one thing, and nobody else does the same thing.
When roles are clear and processes are clear, if something happens – something unexpected (let’s face it, most of what happens is unexpected), you only need to trigger action with one or two people and everything else just follows. People react spontaneously to the situation because there is no confusion on who should do what and no ambiguity about the path to resolution.
The same principles apply to teams. It always bothers me when I see action plans involving lots of people in a ‘team’. Most people in the team will be passive and waste their time.
Here’s some guidelines I follow to foster environments where things get done quickly by simple triggers involving few individuals, no matter how large the organization or how complex the challenge:
– if you’re calling a meeting with more than 7 people, ask yourself: how much worse is the result if you only involve 7 of those people ? (or even less…)
– if you think you need many people, ask why… Most likely, something isn’t clear, something is wrong with your approach – the goal may not be clear, the process may not be clear… So, try to take some time clarifying those things before you move forward.
– meetings and teams shouldn’t be used to communicate or inform. They should be used to do work. Don’t invite people just so they are informed. Use different means to communicate to inform or keep everyone in the loop.
– use social tools and ‘throw’ your issues into the community ‘pool’ and let all the right people come to your help and resolve those issues – spontaneously, quickly, no time wasted blocking time in calendars.
– if you’re planning something and you create a team with more than 5 people, think again. You are probably asking too much of the team; or you’re not clear about the objective of the exercise and you should spend more time clarifying it; or you really need two or 3 teams…
– trust the competency and skill of individuals. Empower people. Let them make decisions and resolve problems.
Ultimately, the secret to an organization that is quick, nimble, super productive and where you don’t see anybody wasting time is in simplicity. Simple, simple, simple. If you simplify everything – processes, roles, information – every situation can be resolved through simple triggers and without big meetings or large ‘teams’.