Interview: US Army Reduces Meetings by 70% While Improving Overall Information Flow

Sep 24, 2021 by Elise Keith in case studies, communication architecture (4 minute read)

John Antill works as a U.S. Army Expeditionary Civilian Workforce Knowledge Manager. In his pursuit of a Master's Degree at Kent State University, he decided to map the flow of information while working as the Knowledge Manager for Army Joint Force Headquarters Cyber using the military's Operational Management Rhythm approach. He focused specifically on the meetings, or meeting flow models, asking:

  • Which meetings are we running now? What's their purpose? 
  • How are these meetings intended to fit into the larger information flow?
  • Is the necessary information reaching the right people at the right time?
  • Where are the gaps? Where are the redundancies?
  • How might we re-work our meetings to better achieve our objectives?

When he was done, the Army worked to implement his suggestions. Early results include:

  • 105 staff hours per week saved by redesigning one meeting
    A 30-person weekly meeting that had run four hours each week was reduced to 30 minutes.
  • 70% fewer meetings
    178 regularly scheduled meetings involving multiple groups reduced to 55
  • Radically increased workforce adaptability
    The inter-department meeting schedule for a 4-Star Command, including meetings that coordinate the work of nearly 1.5 million people, was successfully shifted to adapt to the Covid-19 lockdown in a matter of weeks.

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Topics: case studies, communication architecture

Proven Step-by-Step Recipes for Hiring, Developing, and Retaining Great People

Sep 16, 2021 by Elise Keith in leadership & facilitation, meeting design (13 minute read)

Right now, many teams are dealing with massive turnover. Reports on the "Turnover Tsunami" and "The Great Resignation" reveal staggering volatility across industries and countries. Have you driven past the restaurants in your area recently? If so, you've seen the desperate billboards advertising hiring bonuses, increased wages, and pleading with customers to forgive their limited services.

It's not just the restaurants, as seen in this text message.

Why is this happening? Lots of reasons.

According to Gallup, it may have nothing to do with the organization, the manager, or the team; this is part of what happens when major events force people to re-evaluate their life choices. Normally, major events like graduations, marriages, births, and deaths are infrequent and sprinkled randomly across the workforce. During these last 18 months, every single person experienced a major life event all at once. Everyone is re-evaluating their life choices, and a lot of them are deciding it's time for a change.

In short, it may not be about you right now.

Of course, if your whole team just quit, it might be entirely about you. Your company might be a terrible place to work. You might be an awful manager. Gallup also says that the Great Resignation is made worse by a pervasive Great Discontent.

Whatever the reason, labor shortages are making it hard to get work done.

The cascading failures are unraveling the supply chain. Whole teams are walking away from complicated systems, leaving their replacements with no one to tell them how it all works. This makes the new jobs especially difficult because customers haven't relaxed their expectations. Kindness, unfortunately, is not as contagious as Covid-19.

While many are leaving their jobs, it's likely that boredom, loneliness, or finances will drive them into new jobs soon.

What does this mean for employers and people leaders?

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Topics: leadership & facilitation, meeting design

Want Better Meetings? Put the Purpose in the Name

Aug 23, 2021 by Elise Keith in tips & techniques (8 minute read)

You don't necessarily need an agenda to have a great meeting. 

I'm pretty sure you knew that already.

I'm guessing you've attended many useful and interesting meetings that lacked an agenda. I bet that when someone tells you "No agenda, no attenda!" you feel chastened, but also a bit annoyed by this demand for what feels like busy work.  Short, purposeful meetings simply don't need an agenda. 

Every meeting, though, should have a clear purpose. Why does this group need to spend this time together?

Leaders around the world have a lazy habit of adding meetings to the calendar without making it clear why that meeting needs to happen. As Doodle reported in a 2019 study of over 10 million meetings:

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Topics: tips & techniques

Technology Brief: Augmented Meeting Services (2021 update)

Aug 18, 2021 by John Keith in meeting technology, communication architecture (13 minute read)



Way back in 1996 I decided to quit my high tech job and start an internet software company with a couple friends, because ... Internet right?! Sounds like a lifelong dream come true—but right off the bat I made a big mistake.

See, you think you're going to be building products and delivering services (okay, you are), but as a company founder and leader you're really building a business. And in particular you're building the foundations, processes, and systems that support the business over time. Of course we didn't quite realize that, so instead we mainly focused on building out our product development systems, with scant attention on the accompanying business support systems. That was an error.

Because we hadn't really developed or standardized our communication architecture, people filled the gaps for themselves. One day we woke to discover we were rife with disjointed, informal systems—leading to pockets of isolated information that kept our teams in the dark and separated from each other in their own silos. A lot of that mess showed up in our meetings.

Through this tortuous experience we learned a very important lesson: our meetings were indeed "where the action is" — all the good, bad, or ugly in the organization showed up there. And once we had that idea firmly in mind we began to explore what it meant to develop a truly professional approach to meetings as part of a larger business communication plan.

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Topics: meeting technology, communication architecture

5 Ways to Maintain Meeting Schedules With Flexible Work Arrangements

Jul 25, 2021 by Lisa Michaels in remote work, guest post (5 minute read)

Hello friends! Please enjoy this guest post about establishing meeting schedules in the face of flexible work arrangements from Lisa Michaels, a thriving content marketing consultant from Portland, Oregon.

Pexels

For years, companies have been making the shift towards a more flexible work environment. The cloud and today’s ultra-fast internet connections allow people to stay informed and aligned no matter where they are.

However, though many organizations were beginning to shift towards remote working opportunities, it wasn’t until 2020 when we saw the trend explode.

The pandemic of 2020 meant many companies had to choose between shutting down the company or finding a way for staff to work from home.

According to Gartner, the events of the year shattered the paradigm of the standard workplace schedule forever.

The question for today’s companies isn’t whether remote working opportunities are necessary, but how can they ensure the continued productivity of their employees in a remote environment, particularly when it comes to arranging meetings between disconnected parties?

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Topics: remote work, guest post

Leading Successful All-Hands Meetings: Avoid Common Mistakes and Advance Your Mission

Jul 22, 2021 by Elise Keith in meeting design (18 minute read)

Most organizations host regular meetings involving everyone on their teams.
These meetings go by many names: all-hands, all-staff, all teams, town halls, business update meetings, Teatime, TGIF, and more. This form of meeting, where you gather everyone in your tribe at the same time, is thousands of years old and practiced by every kind of group.  Unfortunately, none of these names provide much guidance about how to make these meetings worthwhile.

Like every meeting, the key to a great all-hands meeting is to clearly define the purpose and intended outcomes in advance. Why do you host these meetings? What should be different afterward as a result?

"All Hands" just describes the attendee list.

I've been asked how to improve all-hands meetings by several clients over the years. In this article, I've pulled together all those separate bits of advice in one place.

Read on to learn:

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Topics: meeting design

A Process for Navigating Your Company's Changing Way of Working

Jul 14, 2021 by Elise Keith (8 minute read)

I've been thinking a lot about how some teams are designed to operate with uncertainty, but most are not.

The teams that operate in uncertain conditions never know what they'll face when they show up to work. Firefighters, athletes, investigators: they can't plan what will happen each day. Instead, they develop skills for performing in a variety of situations, tools for assessing the situation they find themselves in, and then respond with their best guess at what they believe will work in the moment.

If the first attempt doesn't work, then they update their thinking, make a new decision, and try something else.

Decide - see real world results - get information - update mental models - update decision making rules - decide again
Teams respond, adapt, and improve by using approaches like Chris Argyris's double-loop learning. So smart!

Right now, there's a lot of uncertainty surrounding the return to the workplace. Should we try to get everyone back into the office? If so, when? Or how often?

The right choices aren't clear.

Of course, the experts say... so, so many things!

That all our employees will quit if we don't support remote work. Or hybrid work. That we have to be flexible, but that hybrid teams are the hardest to run and the most likely to increase inequality.

Whatever it is we choose, we'll probably get it wrong. We also absolutely must communicate these choices clearly with our teams, because all this uncertainty is burning people out.

Then we'll never hear the end of it. Our teams will probably tell us all the ways our decisions are wrong if we ask. Or if we don't, they'll just leave.

Aha.

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Make Better Decisions Faster by Standardizing Your Decision-Making Criteria

Jul 9, 2021 by Elise Keith in tips & techniques, decision making (8 minute read)

Note: These criteria were originally shared as part of our guide to establishing an effective decision-making process

Have you ever responded to a Request For Proposal (RFP), with its pages and pages of Musts, Shoulds, and Nice to Have selection criteria?

Or, let's keep it simple. Have you ever worked with your team to decide where you should go for lunch?

If you've ever chosen between multiple viable options, you've used decision-making criteria to make that choice.

Or maybe not? Maybe you and your team acted out this scene?

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Topics: tips & techniques, decision making

It's Time to Talk About Your Meetings. Here's How to Get Started.

Apr 30, 2021 by Elise Keith in meeting culture (7 minute read)

"How can we reduce the time we're spending in meetings?"

I used to love it when clients asked me this, because wow - what a softball! This is easy math. To reduce time wasted in unproductive meetings, you can:

  1. Cancel meetings.
    Look for any meeting that lacks a clear purpose or goals, and get rid of it.

  2. Shorten meetings.
    Whack 10 minutes off of every recurring meeting on your calendar, and stick to the new time limit.

  3. Invite fewer people.
    Eliminate meeting time for those people, who probably have better things to do anyway.

  4. Assign a timekeeper.
    This increases your team's awareness of time passing in the meeting and your odds of ending on time or early.

Here's a quicky video summing up these easy-math tips.

 

But do these simple answers help the smart professionals asking this question? 

No.

Of course not, because this isn't really a math question.

This is a question about how to change a team's meeting culture.

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Topics: meeting culture

Reasons to Reconsider How Data Is Shared in Remote Meetings

Apr 27, 2021 by Lisa Michaels in remote work, guest post (5 minute read)

Hello friends! Please enjoy this guest post about information security in meetings from Lisa Michaels, a thriving content marketing consultant from Portland, Oregon.

The way we work has changed on a fundamental level.

These days, around 56.8% of US employees are working remotely, and there’s a good chance that the trend for flexible working will continue to grow.

Remote and hybrid workforces can’t always meet in-person to share ideas and discuss projects.

Instead, they need to access online tools that bring them face-to-face with teams wherever they are.

The good news is that video conferencing and remote meeting services allow your staff to remain productive in any environment.

On the other hand, rushing into a meeting solution without proper planning can be dangerous from a security and privacy perspective.

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Topics: remote work, guest post