Innovation and the art of the meeting

Conduct an audit to ensure effectiveness

innovation

At one time, Kodak was the dominant provider of picture-taking technology in the United States and the world.

Everybody knew what it was to have a “Kodak moment.” Those days are long gone.

What happened?

In the late 1980s, the CEO had dedicated an entire day-long meeting to take a serious look at digital photography, on which Kodak held numerous patents.

The new team started their presentation on why they felt digital technology was the future of photography for consumers. Soon into the presentation, the CEO slammed his hand on the table, explained that Kodak was a chemical processing company, vowed it would never do digital, and basically told the presenters to get the hell out of there.

That meeting led to the demise of Kodak, ending 145,000 high-paying jobs, and the loss of one of the great iconic photography brands in the world.

Meetings can be deadly. It has once been said that only a committee in a meeting could have designed a giraffe!

According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, the DBS (Development Bank of Singapore) did a study of their meeting practices. Chief executive officer Piyush Gupta learned that most of their meetings were dysfunctional and inefficient. They found that meetings often would start late and run late. Sometimes decisions were made and sometimes they were not. People were dutifully arriving at meetings without a clear sense of why they were there. Some participants were active, but many sat in defensive silence. Meetings, leadership concluded, were suppressing diverse voices and reinforcing the status quo.

In working with companies across America, I have frequently noticed the same meeting dynamic and terrible waste of time. I might add it is also a waste of money because time spent in those meetings could easily cost about $3,000 per meeting when calculating the pro rata salaries of people attending.

Formula for successful meetings

There is a formula, tried-and-true, for truly creative meetings that drive innovation in any company.

Below are the basics that I highly recommend in conducting an audit of your meetings to determine if they are hitting the gold standard for great meetings:

  1. Is an agenda distributed in advance clearly identifying the issues to be discussed so people can think about them and prepare?
  2. Physical context matters. Does the room provide cues that ensure the meeting will be fun and encouraging true creativity?
  3. Is the leader who is responsible for the meeting’s success, aka the meeting owner, identified?
  4. Are all attendees given a clear opportunity to participate, even the introverts? (If you doubt this, please read Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.”)
  5. Is there extensive use of flipcharts or whiteboards to clarify the problems or challenges and the potential solutions being discussed?
  6. Does the leader of the meeting provide an opportunity at the end of the meeting for feedback and debriefing?
  7. Are the meeting minutes and a responsibility matrix shared immediately following the meeting with all participants who attended so everyone knows what is to be done and who is accountable for what?
  8. Are the employees at the meeting periodically surveyed anonymously to determine whether their voices were heard and whether the meeting was effective?
  9. How often are participants encouraged to ask, “Why?” By asking why, frequently it forces participants to examine the assumptions underlying the initiatives being discussed.
  10. Is there extensive use of humor, including audio or video clips, to encourage laughter? Humor moves us from our analytical left brains into the right hemisphere of our brains, the source of creative thinking.

An audit of your meetings is time well spent.

At the Singapore Bank they studied the results and impact of more efficient meetings and found it saved an estimated 500,000 employee hours and in surveys learned that the percentage of employees who said they had equal share of voice in meeting jumped from 40% to 90%.

There is therefore great reason to make sure you’re not the next Kodak because you failed to develop a culture that ensured productive, effective meetings!

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Dan Steininger
Dan Steininger is the President and founder of BizStarts. He is also the President of Steininger & Associates. The firm focuses on teaching the tools of innovation to drive growth for companies in all sectors of the economy. Steininger is the former CEO of a major financial institution and a graduate of Boston University Law school. He has published in scholarly journals; appeared on Wall Street week; and been covered by the New York Times.