Category Archives: Meetings

Waste of Meeting

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“It was a waste of time,” Sheila complained. “Some of us had to travel to get here, we lost two days of productivity back at the office. All for this BIG meeting. They’re rolling out this new program, but for my time, they could have told us all about it in an email.”

“What did you learn?” I asked.

“Well, I learned how not to run a meeting,” she replied.

“So, when you run your own meetings, with your department, you now know what NOT to do?”

“Well, yeah, but I didn’t need two lost days to learn a lesson like that.”

“Is it possible, that after all the expenses, all the planning and all the effort that went into the meeting, that your company failed to accomplish what it set out to accomplish?”

Sheila started to chuckle. “You’re right, they probably didn’t intend to have a bad meeting. I am sure they had some goals for the two days, they just didn’t share that with us.”

“Tell me, Sheila. What could they have done differently, to have the impact they were looking for?” -TF

My Fault

From the Ask Tom mailbag:


My last meeting was a one day-seminar working a live case with creative breakout sessions. A warm-up on the beach, 3 coffee breaks and a large lunch break. Instead of 15 minute breaks, the team takes 30 minutes. Instead of 30 minutes for lunch, the team takes 45 minutes. So they found creative techniques to mess with the timetable, and the content of their solutions was not that great.

With this particular group, this happens a lot. I asked for their expectations up front, but that doesn’t work. Normally when I make agreements for a session like this, with other groups, we have no problems.


So, what is different about this team? The answer to your predicament is not some technique on how to handle a group in a meeting. The answer is in what’s different about this group.

I work with groups all over North America. While I have very consistent program material, I have learned that every group I work with is different. And my first job, as a facilitator, or your job, as a manager, is to discover that difference.

If I fail to discover that difference, the level of engagement suffers. When the group is not engaged, they will do something else to fill the time. It appears as misbehavior, taking long breaks, falling asleep or playing with Blackberries under the tablecloth.

Is it the group’s fault? Or is it my fault?

It’s my fault. I failed to engage. I was too impatient, I didn’t listen, I rushed into the content without drawing in the group.

So, over the next few days, we will explore how to do that. -TF

A System Problem

The conference room was comfortable. New leather chairs and a marble top. Nothing like success to create a little overhead.

Sam had assembled a cast of the brightest minds in the company. Marketing was represented, sales, customer service, production and accounting. Everyone looked armed with official looking reports, charts and graphs, ready to defend the slightest attack.

Sam was good. He wasn’t looking for a scapegoat. He knew the problem wasn’t from someone being lazy, or even a wrong decision. He knew it was more likely that the organization’s system needed some attention.

He began by explaining what he had observed, and asked each member to accurately report the real figures behind the events. Unfortunately, four weeks worth of excess finished goods had translated into an eight-week inventory turn. Something had put the brakes on the market.

“So, take a piece of paper,” Sam began, “and write down your condition of satisfaction for this meeting? What has to happen in the next two hours that will indicate time well spent?”

Customer Focus Gap

Joel posted this question in response to yesterday’s post.


I am assembling a “Mission statement/mission focus” plan, and I have a question: I think my team simply needs a more positive and customer driven focus. Misbehavior is not the main problem (as far as I can see), but if I can tune up any issues at the same time it would be fine. What changes would you make to the above plan?


Widen the question. How can we, as Managers, create a discussion about any topic to stimulate thinking, and a positive response in behavior?

Using this skill is one of the most important activities of the Manager. I use this process in the classroom and in most meetings I run.

It’s a simple Gap Analysis, containing three parts.

  • What is the major benefit if we solve [this problem], make progress in [this area]?
  • What is stopping us from solving [this problem] or making progress in [this area]?
  • What can we, as a team, do get [this problem] solved?

Here is what it sounds like related to customer service issues.

  • What are the major benefits if we are able to create a culture that focuses on the customer?
  • What are the conditions, what are the elements that stop us from focusing on the customer?
  • In what way can we, as a team, make changes to create a culture that focuses on the customer?

Get your team together. I usually allow seven minutes for each question, with seven minutes as a wrap-up. This is a powerful thirty minute meeting. -TF

Mission Accomplished

“Yes, but if people are afraid to participate, afraid to contribute their ideas in a meeting, how do you deal with that?” Reggie asked.

“Do your team members have ideas?” I responded.

“Well, yes, some sort of an ideas.”

“So, the problem is, to get the idea out of their head, with zero possibility that it might be rejected by the group? How would you do that?” I stared at Reggie while I reached over and pulled a pen out of my pocket and set it on the table.

“Get them to write their idea down?” Reggie guessed. I nodded. “But still, how do you get them to share their ideas with each other, with the group?”

“It’s too late, the idea is already out of their head. By the way, what happens to the quality of any idea as it moves from the mind to a piece of paper?”

“Well, it improves.”

“So, now, each person owns a much improved idea on a piece of paper in front of them. Divide the group into teams of two or three and have them share their idea with that small group. I guarantee, there will be no hesitation in that small group.

“The next step is to have the small groups report their ideas to the large group. The quality of ideas will be very high and everyone will have participated. Remember, the purpose of this meeting was simply to get your people discussing ideas with each other.” -TF

Losing Control?

Raphael was glum.

“Why the long face?” I asked.

“I have been having difficulty with my team meetings. Everyone comes in looking ready to go, but about 15 minutes in, it’s like the energy has left the room, and I still have lots of stuff to cover. It’s a weekly meeting and is supposed to last for an hour, but people just seem like they are going through the motions.”

“How would you rate the engagement level on a scale of 1-10?”

“Well, it starts at around a 6, but it doesn’t take long to drop to a 2,” Raphael replied.

“What do you think is the problem?”

“It’s like I am talking, yet losing control at the same time.”

“What does that tell you about control?”

Raphael was stumped. “Do you mean, whenever I am talking, I am losing control?”

“Maybe. Think about it this way. In any conversation, who is in control, the person asking questions, or the person responding to questions?”

Raphael was quicker on this one. “Well, that’s easy, the person asking the questions.”

“So, if you want more control, stop talking and ask more questions.” -TF

Sit in the Back

It was a big difference in Nathan’s meeting. Instead of barking out the quota numbers for daily production, he had assigned that task to Rachel. The team had responded.

“What else could you delegate during the meeting?” I asked.

“Well, when Rachel announced the quota number, the first questions were about raw materials and machine setups. So, I was thinking about asking Edward to get with Rachel before the meeting so he could report on the status of raw materials. And I was thinking about Billy, he is our line mechanic, to get with Rachel to plan the machine setups for the day. So he could report those in the meeting.”

“Sounds like an agenda is coming together for this daily meeting and you are having other people become responsible for each line item?”

Nathan laughed. “You know, I thought, as the manager, that I had to do all the talking in the meeting. I am beginning to think, maybe, I should just call the meeting to order and sit at the back of the room.”

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Big Difference

“So, what was the big difference?” I asked. Nathan had been getting pushback in his production meeting whenever he went over the schedule. Especially when he talked about the daily quota number for production.

“I assigned Rachel to announce the number,” Nathan replied. “It was the funniest thing. When I talk about production, people grouse and mumble. When Rachel described the quota number, people began to ask questions. Did we have enough materials on the floor and how many different setups would be required on the machine. It was like they wanted to do the work.”

“So, what did you learn?” I asked.

“I learned that I don’t have to do all the talking. I can delegate out important stuff. Instead of me telling people what to do, when they become involved, they actually step up and participate.”

Our next Leadership class in Fort Lauderdale begins April 23. For more information, visit

Assign It

“But, I still feel there is some tension in the meeting, especially when I start talking about quotas for the day and some of the production problems that need to be corrected,” Nathan explained.

“So, delegate it out,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“Look, Nathan. Where do the quota numbers come from?”

“Well, there is a Production Release report that gets posted at 5:00pm for the next day. That is the number that I go over in my morning meeting.”

“So, it is just a number that comes off of a report? And, you are the bad guy because you know the number and report it in the meeting?”

“Exactly,” nodded Nathan. “I feel like a slave driver, when it is just my job.”

“So, assign the Quota Number report to another team member. During your meeting, ask them to talk about the number from the Production Release report.” I could see Nathan pondering my proposal. “Who could you assign that to?” I asked.

“I could assign that to Rachel,” Nathan replied. I could see a sense of relief wash over his face.

“Let me know the difference in your meeting tomorrow.” -TF

Our next Leadership class in Fort Lauderdale starts April 23. For more information, visit

This Thinking is Work

“So, tell me how your meeting went,” I said.

Nathan was a bit cheery. “It was really different. We have never had a meeting like that.”

“What was different?”

“I only made that one simple change at the beginning. I started with that exercise at the beginning. Good News. I asked everyone in the group to share one piece of Good News from the previous week.” Nathan was finally smiling.

“And?” I asked.

“At first, some were having difficulty. You know, thinking of something positive. If I had asked for Negative News, that would have been easy. But Good News was a struggle.”

“So, what did you learn?”

Nathan was finally seeing some progress. “Thinking about something positive requires work, but it moves people in the right direction. Once they began to work, the rest of the meeting stayed with the same momentum. It’s funny, the only thing I did differently was the way I started the meeting.”

Our next Leadership class in Fort Lauderdale starts April 23. For more information, visit