One of the biggest hassles with meetings is actually setting the meeting up, with multiple emails flooding inboxes deciding who could meet, what the meeting is about, and forget about trying to pin down one time when everyone can attend.
David asks: "But what if there was a better way?" In David's analysis, the approaches for scheduling a meeting can be broken down into four main categories:
Publish and subscribe tools
Calendar scheduling enhancements
Resource management tools
Smart meeting tools
The ordering of that list can be viewed as the evolutionary order of technical solutions to the scheduling problem, with the Smart Meeting Tools section capturing the current AI and Bot zeitgeist. There are quite a few good recommendations in each category, and I think there are some interesting capabilities on the horizon in the smart tools area. Read the full post to get a full sense of David's insight into the scheduling challenge.
The article also talks about Lucid Meetings and our alternative approach based on a holistic view of effective meetings from a complete scheduling, execution, and results orientation.
Introducing Dan Prock The Lucid Meetings team is delighted to welcome our newest template designer, Dan Prock. We met Dan through Ingrid Bens, and quickly realized he had specialized expertise that we were missing. Dan Prock helps businesses of all sizes implement lean practices that help eliminate process wastes and improve operations. Read on to learn about lean, kaizen, and how these practices that started in manufacturing are now revolutionizing the services and small business worlds. — Team Lucid
Massaki Imai, the author of Kaizen, once said:
“The starting point for improvement is to recognize the need. This comes from recognition of a problem. If no problem is recognized, there is no recognition of the need for improvement. Complacency is the archenemy of kaizen.”
Recognizing and Eliminating Problems
In typical organizations, business managers, experts and engineers work to solve problems. “Problems” are typically defined as an issue with a mission-critical system, broken or poor performing machines, buggy software, poor performers, or defects in quality.
Several decades ago, Japanese manufacturers led by Toyota found a way to become competitive on relatively low sales volumes. They did it by turning their attention from just solving the obvious problems towards improving processes overall. The leaders at Toyota learned to harness the intelligence of their people to identify and eliminate “process wastes” – such as delays, rejects, unnecessary motion, over-processing, and extra inventory, for example – using techniques that have since come to be known as “kaizen” and “lean manufacturing”.
Led by master teachers known as the “sensei” and managed by all company leaders, the practice of lean and kaizen enabled Toyota to remain competitive through recessions and quality recalls, and to grow into the world’s largest car company.
One of the fabulous things about building online software is that it makes it possible to quickly make changes based on customer feedback. Here at Lucid, we strive to update the software each week with small changes and fixes, and to release at least one significant improvement every month or two. We’re pretty good about announcing the fancy new features, but we haven’t been as consistent about sharing all those smaller features, updates, and bug fixes that our customers care about.
Let’s fix that, shall we?
Below you’ll find details and screenshots about things that changed for the better in Lucid Meetings over the past few months. Finally, at the end, we’ll share a bit about what we have in the works. For those of you who use Lucid (or who plan to), consider this an invitation to collaborate!
Many meetings bring a group together to quickly discover answers and ideas that no one person can find by themselves. Whether we’re working to negotiate the details of a new project, finding a way to tackle a challenging problem, or seeking to define our strategic vision, the pattern is the same; someone poses a question, and the group starts brainstorming answers. Effective brainstorming is essential to nearly every type of business meeting.
Unfortunately, not all questions are created equally. Sometimes the questions asked in a meeting don’t invite meaningful answers. Asking “Everyone good with that?” after dictating a decision isn’t an effective way to surface real concerns or get real commitments. Some questions are too vague, making it unclear what kind of answer to give. Questions like “Do you have any feedback?” result in either polite non-replies (e.g., “Nope, I’m good.”) or long-winded side discussions that don’t necessarily get to the answers the group needs.
Getting great ideas from a group during a meeting can be hard, and for many participants, traditional brainstorming can feel like a painful waste of time.
First, despite the popularity of brainstorming sessions, we have some evidence that meetings aren’t always the best place to birth new ideas. Ideal or not, however, sometimes a meeting is the only real opportunity we have to explore ideas as a group, so we’d better make it work.
"Lucid Meetings is an online meeting management platform for designing, running, and continuously improving the business meetings that power your organization’s success."
When you declare that you're a platform, you better be able to back that up with some reasonable definition about what that means. In the above support article, we list quite a few properties of a Meeting Management Platform (read about them), including one line about how only a few "platforms" connect to your larger business ecosystem:
Only a few meeting management platforms include ... "Open APIs and extensive business system integrations"
This post is about that one line.
Creating an Open API
An Open API, or perhaps better put, a Public API, is the user interface for software developers seeking to integrate an API-oriented application into other business systems. A Public API (application programming interface) provides documented mechanisms for external software developers to safely observe, measure, and control the application (Lucid Meetings). It's a contract of sorts between the people who create software and the people who would extend that software in new and interesting ways. I love Public APIs.
In the modern age, most web software either provides or makes use of internal APIs for connecting the core software pieces to one another. Lucid Meetings certainly does. But having an internal API does nothing for your external developer community; we've long recognized that a Public API would be a great addition for our Lucid customers and partners. Last month we finally fixed that deficit.
Developing an open, public API for a web service such as Lucid Meetings can be a daunting task. While there is no shortage of best practices recommendations, there is also no single, prescribed approach for doing this work. In short, there are many ways to get this wrong, and no precise way to get it right.To focus our attention, we established a few guiding principles at the outset:
Create a full featured API with read, write, and modify capability
Adopt a pragmatic, RESTful approach that developers could embrace
Use established patterns for resources (nouns) and actions (verbs)
Use established patterns for authentication and authorization
And all that work paid off with a well organized, very usable API for technical developers to create new and interesting integrations with other applications.
What About Our Non-Technical Customers?
The last guiding principle, about demonstrating the value, is perhaps the most important. We can create APIs till the cows come home, but if we can't show how they add value then we're pretty much just talking about their potential, rather than their reality.
We needed a way to showcase the value of our newly minted API and we needed a way to directly enable the success for thousands of customers and their people.
Meetings are an important component of virtually any business. In the past, it was not uncommon for meeting participants to board a plane and fly to another coast or international locations.
This was necessary to ensure that all of the company divisions met face to face and were on the same page, but it cost a great deal of money. Travelling extensively meant that certain employees could not perform their regular jobs for potentially days at a time.
Thankfully, online meetings have changed all of that without compromising professional bonding. In fact, many of the technologies available today make staying in touch so much easier, which allows professional relationships to be stronger than ever and require less of a time commitment.
Introducing Ingrid Bens The Lucid Meetings team is delighted to welcome our newest template designer, Ingrid Bens. Ingrid is an award-winning author and facilitator whom we've known for many years. When we heard she had a new book out that included several meeting designs, we couldn't wait to share it here. Read on for more about Ingrid's new book, including a new Lucid Meetings template for Group Discovery that showcases one of her designs. — Team Lucid
Professionals in every field spend years perfecting their expertise, but very few ever learn to facilitate.
This seems like an insignificant omission, but it’s actually a major skill gap when you consider how much time everyone spends attending meetings.
Facilitation skills matter because they let you structure complex decision-making conversations. Without structure, meetings tend to be unfocused and hence, unproductive. When you run a meeting that lacks structure you’re inviting the outspoken to dominate and the side-trackers to hijack the agenda.
In contrast, when you run a well-structured meeting, the conversation stays focused, all views are considered, decisions are made objectively and the meeting ends with clear next steps.
When you run an unstructured meeting you constantly have to fight to maintain control. When you have a clear structure, you look organized and in charge. The choice is clear.
Creating a strategic plan for your business is a critical task for the leadership of every company.
If you don’t decide where you’re headed, you will lead aimlessly. People will follow your direction, but they won’t have context, insight into to your actions, or an understanding of how they can best contribute.
Any planning requires time and focused attention, yet with a few simple rules, building a strategic plan can be accomplished with less effort than most people think.
Best of all, once you create the plan, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. Everyone in your organization can move in the same direction toward a common set of goals.
Mapping Your Strategic Plan
Building a strategic plan is like creating a map. It has directions for how an organization will accomplish any given strategy. The plan (map) explains where a company is going and the methods (roads) people will take to get there.
When your team decides to come together and build the plan, be sure to include all relevant stakeholders in the process. Without them, you’ll have less commitment to the final outcome.
Many leaders understand the value of planning, but neglect to go through with it for a myriad of reasons. Time constraints, knowledge of the process, or perceived high cost can all be obstacles to executing.
Here are 5 great reasons to get your team together to create a strategic plan as soon as possible:
You get to set priorities Provide clarity by letting your team know the most important initiatives for the organization.
You get buy-in on company direction If everyone contributes to the process, they'll be more supportive of the outcomes.
Your team will have alignment When your team has a mutual understanding of and agreement on the company's goals, they'll work together more effectively.
You can simplify what you'll work on Once you limit yourself to a set of specific goals, you can be liberated to work on just those goals.
As a leader, you can communicate your vision Once you document your company's vision, not only can you clear your head of thinking about it, but everyone around you (employees, vendors, leadership) can contribute to achieving the vision sooner.
Remarkable leaders understand that how they design and lead meetings determines how well their group functions.
Why Leaders Need to Master Meetings
Meetings serve a critical function in the workplace. The meeting's job is to lead a group from wherever they are individually to a new place where they can have a shared perspective.
We call this convergence; the merging of distinct perspectives into a unified whole.
Teams that fail to converge around a shared perspective don't work. They hold different visions of what they should be doing. They work at cross-purposes. Decisions aren't clear, projects meander, and progress comes slowly or not at all.
It is the job of the meeting to give everyone a shared perspective on their work, and the job of the leader to make sure meetings succeed.
Return Leverage, one of Lucid’s Enterprise clients, found our downloadable meeting notes to be less helpful than they’d hoped. Toby Lucich from Return Leverage asked if we could improve the exports to help make it easier for busy professionals to read the meeting notes. We’re thrilled to have had the opportunity to learn from his experience and improve the exports.
Since we made these changes in collaboration with Return Leverage, we asked Toby if he’d be willing to share more about why this format works, and how his company uses it to drive meeting results with clients. Happily, he agreed.
Toby Explains Why Formatting Can’t Suck
As an entrepreneur and management consultant, I’ve now worked with hundreds of business leaders in organizations big and small, for-profit and non-profit, both founder-led and professionally managed. I’ve worked with organizational leaders at all levels that have been charismatic, visionary, thought-provoking, strategic, detail-oriented; some have also been distracted, impatient, disengaged, incompetent, or simply apathetic. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes.
The common challenges I’ve seen all leaders face are the overly-packed calendar, shifting expectations, soft commitments, impending deadlines, and never enough time to get it all done.
Regardless of the client or their culture, our first obligation is fundamentally about effective communication. We believe that every single client deserves our best effort to capture and communicate the most critical ideas and actions that will efficiently and effectively turn ideas into actions, and actions into successful business results.
How this information is presented is a critical first step.
A clean, easy-to-read format is a powerful first impression in shifting the value from meeting notes toward meeting agreements or records for your stakeholders.You never know which meeting is going to change the course of the company.
We’ve recently collaborated with Lucid to redesign the exported report. Here's some of the design thinking that went into the new format.
Return Consulting has worked for many years with clients from startups to the Fortune 50. Over that time, they’ve found that the most uniform shortcoming across all organizations is the weak commitments made in poorly run meetings, working toward ill-defined project objectives.
Toby Lucich, Return’s Founder and CEO, saw an opportunity to solve this problem for his clients, and was inspired to create Return Leverage - a service that enables leaders and project specialists to redefine their workload by delegating the day-to-day details of project management, meeting facilitation and task organization.
Using Lucid, Toby and his expert team drive these often overlooked essential habits within client organizations in a very effective way.
We spoke with Toby Lucich for this case study, and here’s what he had to say.
The Problem - And Inspiration for a New Service
Many of the clients Return worked with suffered from poorly run meetings, but this hasn’t been due to a lack of knowledge, or inadequate training.
Instead, Return found that clients wanted to rush through meetings, trying to keep their scarce employee resources focused on the most critical work at hand - the specific tasks that make the ’highest and best use’ of their available expertise.
"The problem is that when organizations try to shortcut their meetings, they lose the fundamental cadence that confirms commitments and drives accountability,” Lucich shared. “This ‘hurry up offense’ left no one doing the basic blocking and tackling work anymore – such as conducting effective meetings, monitoring commitments and deliverables, and keeping track of all the little details.”
We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience.
These meetings go by many names - postmortems, retrospectives, after-action reviews, wrap-ups, project “success” meetings. Regardless of what you call them, they all have the same goal and follow the same basic pattern. The Project Retrospective dedicates time to reviewing a completed project and learning from both the successes and the failures so the team and organization can improve their processes going forward.
Formalized as the after-action review by the US Army, these meetings ensure a team quickly learns from each engagement.
There, the classic questions go something like:
What did we set out to do?
What actually happened?
Why did it happen?
What are we going to do next time?
The Core Process
The process for debriefing a project covers roughly the same topics as the quick after-action discussion. I’ll go into more detail below, but in brief, it looks like this.
1. Review the project.
Start by reviewing the project facts: goals, timeline, budget, major events, and success metrics.
In order to come up with useful ideas that everyone can agree on, the team needs a shared understanding of the facts and insight into the parts of the project in which they may not have been involved.
It’s important not to skip or rush through this step, especially for larger projects. People will arrive at the retrospective ready to discuss and solve problems, often assuming they know everything they need to know about what happened. This is rarely true.
If you are reviewing a project as a team, that means it took many people with unique experiences to get to that point. This step ensures everyone gets all the facts straight before they try to solve problems they may only partially understand.
2. Discuss what worked well and what didn’t.
This is the heart of the meeting. Everyone shares what they learned during the project: both the good and the bad.
In my opinion, this is the most fun and most challenging part of the meeting. As the meeting leader, you have an enormous impact on the success of your retrospective by deciding which questions you’ll ask and how the team shares their answers.
3. Action planning: identify specific ways to improve future work.
Have you ever worked with a group that talks about their aspirations, problems, and what needs to change, but never actually does anything about any of it?
That sucks. It’s de-motivating, discouraging, and a waste of time.
Real change is the ultimate measure of a retrospective’s success. To ensure that your retrospective results in something actually getting better, you’ll end the meeting by creating a specific action plan for improvements.
We've known Tom Flynn for many years. Over lunch recently, he shared with us this story about a master facilitator he met early in his career who had a powerful influence on shaping the kind of leader Tom is today.
With all the "tips" and "tricks" and "5 easy ways" we see every day about how to improve our meetings, it's easy to lose sight of how important the simple things, like really listening and remembering to say thank you, can be. Tom's story is a beautiful reminder and we're very grateful he's allowing us to share it with you here.
Thank you, Tom, from all of us at Lucid.
I learned one of my favorite meeting management tips during my time working with international standards groups back in the early 2000s. It’s as surprisingly simple as it is powerful, and something I practice whenever I chair a committee or lead a meeting today.
Back then, I helped facilitate a weekly teleconference call with 10 to 20 marketing professionals representing different companies on the DLNA marketing committee. Each week, these representatives called in at odd hours of the day from their offices in Europe, Asia, and the US.
Calls like these easily lose focus or become routine and boring. They can also be very stressful. The participants represent different companies attempting to agree on a single way forward. Each person there was supposed to make sure their company’s interests were protected. The competitive environment, the repetitive weekly schedule, and the added challenges of odd hours and choppy phone lines made it very hard for people to engage in meetings like this one.
None of that, however, was a problem for our calls because of the special custom our committee chair practiced.
He closed every meeting beautifully.
I’d facilitated international meetings like this for 3-4 years and thought I had it down. This new marketing committee however, was a revelation. Each and every week, the committee chair concluded the meeting by recognizing and thanking the committee members, to powerful effect. I’d seen people say “Thank you” before, but this was more than simple good manners.
Our chair thanked people individually by name for their contributions in a sincere and meaningful way. He made everyone feel good about contributing, and inspired us to come to the next meeting ready to impress. The whole dynamic of the group changed, as each person worked harder to deserve this recognition by the end of the call.
How did he manage to find something to say about so many people each week? He planned for it in advance.
Once in a while, a new manager will come to an organization and do something that is both bold and disruptive. First, they will ask the group to set aside their PowerPoint slides and their usual meeting topics for an hour. Next, they will open up the conversation in a simple, elegant and powerful way.
“I want to know what problems you are dealing with in your units. I want to know what you are losing sleep over. I want to know what you are worried about.
We’ve got an hour and so let’s just relax and talk. Who wants to start?”
Why is this bold?
It seems we’ve lost our ability to utilize the wisdom of our groups and our colleagues. We tend to worry more about what others think of us than being open, honest and vulnerable. Our desire for comfort shuts down our intentions to get better.
Yet, there is something about the power of groups that arises when people who care talk about things that matter. We end up feeling like we belong to a group of friends. We erase this sense of being alone. We develop a community of understanding. We get thinking that comes from the group conversation rather than from an individual. We learn from the experience of others. And the sense of connection as a group builds.
One of the valuable conversations that can be included on any group’s agenda is working together on an individual member’s dilemma, problem, idea, or project. Gaining access to the experience and thinking of colleagues can add clarity and options to a situation. In addition, these conversations strengthen the sense of community within a group.
On the TV show The Profit, Marcus Lemonis teaches that “people, process and product” are the three keys to a successful business. As Chairman and CEO of Camping World and Good Sam Enterprises, he leads close to 6,000 employees in over 100 cities across the US. I’ll take that as a credible source.
There are numerous processes out there to run a business, manage people, and develop products, yet almost all of them are geared toward in-person communication.
What happens when your team is distributed, and rarely sees each other in person?
Remote work is a reality in companies everywhere - whether employees are on a different floor, co-located in offices across multiple cities, or in a remote home office location working solo.
We've published a wealth of information on remote work over the years. We sifted through it all and pulled out the five pieces we felt every remote team can and should have in their process toolkit - the foundations - and wrapped them up into a neat little package.
Teams that work well together get into a groove. They create agreements about how they’ll communicate, and they meet regularly. Whether it’s a daily huddle, a bi-weekly check-in, or a monthly committee meeting, most groups working together establish a regular, repeating meeting time. The regular meeting is a key tool in achieving the organizational discipline required to perform at a high level.
Lucid Meetings now supports the ability to schedule these repeating meetings using your favorite meeting template, making this the fastest and easiest way to get your team’s regular meetings set up.
For the longest time, we resisted creating a way for people to schedule a whole bunch of regular meetings at once. This was a well-meaning but wrong-headed mistake, because the new repeating meeting feature is crazy useful. (Largely my fault. I’m sorry.)
In one of the first posts on this blog, our friend and former partner wrote about adapting his emergency response training as a SCUBA instructor to the business setting. Chris translated the steps for triaging a physical emergency into a basic meeting agenda. It looked very much like the “Red Light” process John used when he worked a computer manufacturing firm, and like the “All Hands on Deck!” meeting I remembered from my time in client services. Since then, I’ve seen many formats for problem-solving meetings, and the basic pattern holds.
Here at Lucid, we’ ran into a thorny problem we need to solve quickly, and that none of us could fix on our own. To find a solution, we used our “Problem Buster” meeting process that we adopted way back when Chris wrote that first SCUBA-inspired post. Happily, our challenge also presents an opportunity to share this process and (a new meeting template!) with you.
When to Use this Process
This meeting format is best for urgent problems that require a speedy tactical response. When you leave the meeting, someone will immediately go out and do something to start solving the problem.
What counts as urgent? “Urgency” is obviously subjective, but we can provide some guidance about the kind of problems that should be addressed by other means.
Leaders get work done through the conversations they hold. Often those conversations are in meetings—particularly when multiple people need to be in the discussion. In spite of all the criticism of time-wasted in meetings, leaders need meetings to create new insights, build understanding, and make decisions with their teams.
As a leader, you can choose to make your meetings more effective by understanding how to structure them and when to hold them to accomplish real work together. Effective meeting structure is the key.
Most prescriptions for better meetings focus on changing behavior. But most leaders (and their teams) find it hard to adopt and maintain different behaviors under the pressure of important discussions (and few have a facilitator to help them “talk nice.”) Instead, leaders can change the way their meetings are structured to make them naturally more effective. “Structure” refers to various physical, temporal and procedural variables that influence how people talk together. The right structure naturally supports more effective behaviors and leads to productive use of participant time and expertise. Here are three structural changes you can make to your meetings to improve the quality, efficiency and outcomes of the work you need to do in your meetings.
Three Structural Changes
There are a number of choices you can make to create an effective structure for your meeting. Here are three of the most fundamental.
Usually when we think of discipline, it’s deeply personal and not that much fun.
One kind of discipline involves punishing others. For example, as a parent, I may discipline my misbehaving child.
Another kind of discipline punishes ourselves. We exercise self-discipline when we turn down dessert, get up earlier than we want to go jogging in the rain, and save for retirement instead of splurging on luxuries.
Yet without the discipline to make a plan and stick to it, we can’t reach our goals. This applies whether the goals are personal or organizational; goals are meaningless if we aren’t taking the action required to achieve them.
Most organizations lack discipline. It takes discipline to clarify and communicate goals across a team, and even more discipline for all the individuals in the group to stick to the plan and do their part as time goes on.
When you operate at the organizational level, the type of discipline that leads to punishment for doing the wrong thing comes into play when someone either lacks the skills or the willingness to do their job. In situations like these, discipline looks like corrective action, or coaching, or training, or getting fired.
On the other hand, when the people in the group have the right skills and a willingness to do the job, a failure in organizational discipline looks like a problem with accountability. For reasons we often ascribe to weaknesses of character, the people we work with just don’t seem to follow through with the agreed upon strategy. They appear to lack that second flavor of discipline - self-discipline – to stick with the program and complete their tasks. We cajole, we threaten, we push and we pull, but things just don't change.