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Improve meetings, improve your culture

In the first part of this series, we discussed the cultural power of defining a "success theme."

Here's the second simple practice to help you achieve that:

Improve meetings. Meetings are a "litmus test" for urgency and action in a company. Too often, they are not focused and crisp with a bias for problem solving and action. Two or three people dominate the conversation while everyone else tunes out. There may be an agenda but rarely a goal. Leaders are frustrated because they want participation but everyone is quiet. Following are a few tips from a recent meeting overhaul of a Denver company's monthly operations meeting.

• Clear goal AND agenda for the meeting: This meeting was a vague "free-for-all." Now, they start each meeting with "The goal of this meeting is to keep everyone in the loop of what's happening and improve our ability to simplify and improve our day-to-day work." That simple practice focuses everyone and provides an anchored routine, like the announcement "This is a flight to Houston" helps you know you're on the right plane.

• Shorten the meeting. They spent 2 hours for a meeting that was scheduled for 90 minutes. Now the meeting is one hour and they stop on time. Everyone stays energized. Shortening and eliminating meetings frees up time for people to do real work.

• Assign roles. Especially a timekeeper - stay accountable to your planned timing.

• Prepare off-line. This group was 16 people. Any group over 6 is hard to get full engagement. We created an expectation of up front preparation in small groups - so people know what they are accountable to share in the meeting and have participated ahead. Preparation is everything.

• Structure participation. Design how you want people to participate so they engage - don't ad lib. We create one question per meeting and give introverts time to write first. Their participation is far better.

• Take resolution off-line. We made a rule "don't solve problems in the meeting" unless it's relevant to everyone in the room. Issues were assigned and taken off-line for resolution so two people aren't problem-solving while 8 people watch or check out. That stopped wasting the time of everyone else at the table.

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Lisa Jackson

Lisa Jackson is a corporate culture expert on assessing, defining, and improving culture's impact on business performance, especially during mergers and strategy shifts. Look for her new book "Fit to Compete: 9 Truths for Transforming Corporate Culture" this fall or visit her on the web at http://www.jacksonandschmidt.com.


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