Meaty Meetings – No Filler!

Bhaskar Dutt, TMMBA Student

Class 11 had a great session a few days ago with the always-entertaining Greg Bigley, in which we discussed how our study teams were working out. While on the subject of team meetings, I was very pleasantly surprised to learn that the team I am part of, Team Blue Chips, had some of the most efficient and productive team meetings in the cohort (yay, team!). I thought others might want to hear about our meeting practices, so if that sounds useful to you, read on!

We average a little over one meeting a week (usually on Monday nights, starting at 7 pm) and rarely have our meetings go over two hours – apparently this is on the low side compared to other teams. Last quarter we invariably met virtually, over Skype, since commute times made it hard for us to meet much in person. While there is certainly a loss of communication fidelity when the meeting is voice-only (it is amazing how much communication happens through facial expressions, gestures, and body language!), we tried to make the best of it and on the whole were satisfied with the experience. Here are some of the things we did to keep our meetings meaty and free of filler:

  • Send out meeting request in advance, with agenda: The current Coordinator (a role rotated on a monthly basis within our team) is responsible for creating a meeting request for the team. This should contain an itemized agenda of what the team plans to cover during that meeting. This is essential for setting expectations.
  • Be on time: The team will wait up to but no more than 5 minutes for late-comers. If a team member can’t make it, they should try to inform the team via email in advance if possible. Time is extremely short for all of us, and so we have tried to build a culture of punctuality to maximize the efficient use of our time.
  • Decide on time frame for meeting: Based on the amount of material we have to cover, at the beginning of the meeting we estimate how much time it will take and try to keep to that schedule thereafter.
  • Assign meeting leader: A team member is designated the meeting leader for each meeting. This role is rotated and involves going over the agenda to open the meeting, keeping the meeting on track, taking notes during the meeting, and sending out meeting minutes afterwards. This gives each of us some practice in running tight meetings, and leaves the team with a record of things discussed and decisions taken during the meeting.
  • Assign leader for each case discussed: This is not exactly meeting-related, but certainly proved to be a good practice. We assign a leader for each case (ahead of time, of course), and rotate the responsibility, like all others. The case lead is expected to prepare the case thoroughly, lead the discussion around it, and prepare any case materials for submission. As far as possible, other team members should also prepare the case and provide their perspective during the team discussion.
  • Cover meeting items thoroughly, but keep it moving: The meeting agenda items are then covered in order, with each case lead driving the discussion for their cases. The meeting leader and case leader should keep the team focused during discussions, making sure that we don’t rat-hole or digress too much, so that we can end on time.
  • End meeting with AAR: At the end of the meeting, we have a 5-minute after-action review (AAR). This consists of each of us quickly and frankly listing things that either went well or need improvement. These could be things that we recognize ourselves doing or feedback for other team members. The emphasis is on continuous improvement as a team, so we aim to leave the AAR with specific action items.
  • Send out meeting notes: After the end of the team meeting, the meeting leader sends out the meeting minutes by email. These contain a bullet-point summary of what we did during the meeting, and in particular, list the AAR discussion points along with action items, if any. These notes are also listed in our online repository, where we keep all team materials.

And that’s about it. It’s not particularly complicated, but it takes discipline to be prepared for each meeting and stick to the plan through it. The advantages are definitely worth it, though – we have more time to ourselves, and generally end up well-prepared for class as a result of these meetings. I can’t guarantee that these exact practices will work for everyone, but they have certainly made life that much easier for Team Blue Chips!

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