Insurance Internal Meetings . . . Simplified

A meeting is an event at which the minutes are kept and the hours are lost.

Unknown source.

I lead the Effective Meetings: Don’t Waste your Time chapter in The Insurance Management Playbook with the above quote.

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't believe that meetings are a complete waste of time! I do think, however, that we spend way too much time in them.

Too many internal meetings, particularly at senior levels, basically mean that we are spending time talking to one another as opposed to serving customers, leading our teams, creating shareholder value, or going home earlier a couple of times a week and spending time with our families or giving back to the community.

This blog is deliberately 50% shorter than the average length of each of my past 10 blogs to get my message across. I don't want to further complicate an already time-wasting and productivity-killing endeavor: Internal Meetings.

Below are 8 basic rules on how to efficiently organize and run meetings to improve productivity:

1. The Start: Declare your intentions at the outset. Don’t keep people wondering as to the purpose of the meeting. Communicate clearly, set a crystal-clear agenda, and stick to it.

2. Prepare Obsessively: This guidance applies to the meeting organizers as well as participants. Your objective should be to debate and discuss specific issues, with as much information as possible, and make decisions. You can't accomplish this objective without adequate preparation.

3. Be Prompt: Unless there is a very valid business or personal reason, everyone should show up at least a couple of minutes before the meeting starts to get the hellos, muffin-nibbling, and coffee-stirring out of the way in time for the meeting to commence. Being prompt is polite and reduces time wastage.

TIP 1: If you have a recurring promptness issue, lock the meeting room door 2 minutes after the meeting starts, assuming you did not receive an explanatory e-mail or text beforehand. This usually takes care of it.

4. Appoint a Chair: This person does not have to be the boss herself. As the meeting chair, interject as is appropriate to keep people on subject, on time, and laser-focused on the business of the day. Delegate the chair position to other members of your team from time to time.

5. Candor & Confrontation: Trust among team-members is a prerequisite for candor to become the underlying tone that characterizes meetings. Bosses and participants become open to debate, questioning, and deliberation.

TIP 2: The degree to which you can be candid, however, depends on your team members’ mix of personalities and company culture. Check the “emotional temperature” of the meeting, watch out for people who might feel uncomfortable, and adjust your tone depending on the seniority of the team. If things get hairy, take the discussion offline.

6. Team Building: Beyond the declared agenda, there is another inherent purpose to every meeting: Building a team spirit. You should use meetings to improve on team communications and dynamics, learn how to handle and manage friction, and get folks focused on solving complex issues within a short time-frame. You could use “workout sessions” for example, the problem-solving and team-building methodology used by General Electric (GE).

7. APs: Meetings are pointless unless accompanied by Action Points in the same way that hearty pieces of vegetables have no purpose in life unless coupled with a nice juicy steak. I read a version of the latter part of the sentence at restaurant once. For the non-red-meat-eaters among the readers, I am sorry for the insensitive comment. The point is, if you don't make decisions during meetings and agree action points you've really just wasted everybody's time and money.

8. The End: Finish your meetings in the same way you start them: With a clear statement of intent and expectations: “This is what we’ve discussed and agreed, this is what everyone needs to deliver and by what time, and these are the metrics that will determine whether the results are good, bad, or ugly.”

TIP 3: I made it a habit throughout my career to highlight the cost of internal meetings to the attendees right at the beginning. It’s really easy to calculate and there are several apps and products to help you monitor meeting costs. Numbers don't lie and they have a funny, yet highly effective, way of getting folks focused on getting important things done in record time.

TIP 4: If none of the above guidance appeals to you, you may want to try this: Cut your meetings' frequency and length by 50% NOW. Monitor the results after one quarter. In a worst case scenario, your productivity should remain at the same level. At best, it will increase dramatically. Doing this is guaranteed to cut the time and cost of your meetings and drive productivity as well as team morale through the roof.

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