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When Ofsted visit, they are looking for a productive, effective and efficient college. Though the focus is of course on teaching and learning, one of the areas where a considerable resource is allocated and consumed without always producing an appropriate benefit, is meetings.
This article offers some ideas for improving such an expensive, and often wasteful, resource.
If one person wastes one hour of their time, then that is one hour of waste.
If ten people attend a two-hour meeting without achieving anything, that is 20 hours of waste.
Opportunity cost is a term used to describe ‘the opportunity lost’ of investing in any activity – because time spent doing task A cannot be spent doing task B – or C, or D, and so on.
So the decision to invest in task 8 should be based on the benefit it produces, when compared to any other task. So if a meeting were to tie up ten people for two hours – the opportunity cost is twenty hours that could be spent elsewhere. So the value of the meeting should be at least equivalent to what those twenty hours could/should produce elsewhere.
So what is the opportunity cost of your meetings? And so does each meeting cover its opportunity costs?
Here’s a suggestion I’ve introduced into some organisations that is radically different from conventional formats – but works!
It’s called the ‘problems into solutions’ approach – PintoS for short – and is ideal if the meeting has problems or issues to discuss or resolve. It works like this.
Suppose the agenda has (say) 8 issues it wishes to discuss and, ideally, resolve. Put a blank flip chart paper up on the meeting room wall, one per issue (in this example, that would be 8 flip chart sheets). Put an issue heading on each sheet.
At the start of the meeting, explain each issue, so everyone is clear why it is an issue, and has a clear understanding of them.
Give everyone attending the meeting a set of post its. Then ask the meeting participants to offer their suggestions for each issue on the post it (one suggestion per post it) and stick the post its on the relevant issue flip chart. Participants can make as many suggestions as they want, and prioritise which issues they most want to contribute to. Remind them to write legibly, as others will need to read their post it notes….
The amount of time you allow for this will depend on the number and complexity of issues, but a rule of thumb is roughly one minute per issue, rounded to the nearest 5. So for 8 issues, I’d suggest 10 minutes.
Then call a quick refreshment break – 10 minutes – in which the meeting organiser and volunteers go round the flip charts, to remove duplicates, and group suggestions into themes where appropriate.
The next stage, after the break, is to give everyone sticky coloured dots. Each participant is then given a different flip chart as a starting point (to avoid overcrowding), and works their way clockwise round the flip charts, adding a sticky dot alongside any suggestion they support (so all dots are affirmative).
Then take the flip charts off the wall, and allocate each to sub-groups of the meeting, so they can summarise their flip chart back the group – ie each suggestion, with number of votes (dots) – in priority order.
These reports back are collated, so everyone can see what the ‘reports back’ are on each issue.
Then each issue can be debated, as informed by the suggestions and their scores. It makes most sense to debate suggestions that have a middle score, since the extremes already have the consensus of the group. For example, if the meeting has 10 participants, there is not much point in discussing suggestions that have scores of 0, 1, 2, 8, 9 or 10 – since there is already consensus on those ideas. Much better to discuss the ‘middle ground’ scores of 4 – 7.
This process has a number of real advantages:
For contrast, imagine how a typical meeting might fare:
Most participants feel that most meetings don’t work, are not productive, and not looked forward to. Yet we tend to persist with running them the same way. If they aren’t working, surely it’s worth trying something new?
Arnie Skelton, Managing Director, Effective Training & Development Ltd