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'Flip' That Meeting


April 2014 – Vol: 37 No. 4
by Les Wallace, Ph.D.

Spend more time on dialogue (and less on presentations) to create better outcomes, engagement and satisfaction.

An outdoor boardroomMeetings with clearly defined outcomes that actively engage participants get high marks. People adore action and abhor boredom and lectures. That’s why employees consider 50 percent of their work meetings a waste of time. Another 70 percent find “status update” meetings unproductive. Add to this the time people spend producing the perfect meeting presentation for a gathering no one wants to attend, and you have misdirected effort.

The meetings of your credit union’s board of directors are certainly not exempt from these issues. One of the top three complaints from boards is the quality of their meetings. They report experiencing such troubles as having the wrong agenda, not enough dialogue and “death by PowerPoint.”

Value of Face-to-Face Meetings

Meetings are valuable for three purposes: (1) problem-solving with the right people in the room, (2) innovative thinking where we spark off one another’s ideas, and (3) finalizing decisions. Board meetings filled with updates and presentations while we sit bolted into our chairs waste valuable time.

In today’s environment, people are accustomed to “the meeting before the meeting,” such as pre-readings before a class, emails outlining issues before in-person discussion or even pre-meeting conversations about topics on the agenda. This pre-meeting work makes taking 15 minutes for announcements unnecessary, and creates more time for problem-solving, brainstorming and making decisions.

Some managers believe that PowerPoint presentations are dynamic and necessary. But in reality, these often bore board members and steal dialogue time—and boards are often too courteous to change the motif. Inevitably, in a self-assessment the board will declare it could do without all those time-consuming presentations.

At the executive and governance level, time is measured in increments of $300 an hour per person. When your nine-member board sits through a 15-minute presentation, that’s $675 of listening time. Is it worth it?

Enter the “flip” meeting. Flip, as in flip the presentation time to minimum and the dialogue time to maximum.

This is becoming more common in classrooms where students spend class time applying pre-reviewed content to problems, case studies or talking through implications. In today’s education world, online learning combined with in-class application is known as “blended learning.”

Professional meetings and conventions are going down the same path. The new conference format has participants digesting content in advance, then gathering for interactive sessions with one another and subject matter experts. This is hands-on learning, not “sage on a stage” lecturing. Participants find this format stimulating and lots more fun.

Boards of directors are discovering the value of increasing deliberative interaction and exploration by reducing live presentation time at meetings and investing in pre-reading before a board meeting. This helps to drive out fear all boards share about having enough future-facing discussion time to explore their organization’s strategic future.

Interpersonal Interaction is Key

Group learning and decision-making take place through interaction—there is no substitute. Any strategy to increase dialogue and interaction boosts learning, decision quality, thorough consideration of issues, and—ultimately—participant confidence in what they’ve learned or decided.

Take Back Time

In today’s effective meeting, those leading a discussion of an issue reference their pre-submitted executive summary, provide a 60-second introduction and open the discussion by asking for questions, additional data/insight, and potential ideas/solutions—in that order. In that order, no exceptions! Meetings that are problem-minded first and then solution-minded are much more successful and satisfying.

Summarize decisions and next steps. Remember, any meeting over an hour is taxing everybody’s attention and energy.

Time is as precious as our health. Lose time and we never get it back. Moreover, we are frequently frustrated and angry with the waste. Thinking about the best use of time in advance is a competency of the most successful leaders and groups. Flipping your meeting gets you in that frame of mind. Give it a test drive at your next meeting and watch the smiles break out. Unless, of course, you have nothing better to do with your time.

Les Wallace, Ph.D., the 9Minute Mentor, is president of Signature Resources Inc. He is co-author of A Legacy of 21st Century Leadership and author of Principles of 21st Century Governance (Oct. 2013). He is a frequent speaker and consultant on governance leadership.

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