Discussion Thread

Becoming a Master of Efficient Meetings

  • 1.  Becoming a Master of Efficient Meetings

    Posted 06-17-2019 11:15 AM
    As we all know, more often than not, meetings are inefficient and take longer than they should without any substantial results. I believe we should have meetings only when there is a real pressing need and when a simple call or discussion at a desk is not sufficient. I have been in meetings where not everyone is prepared and they are scrambling through papers and emails to be able to answer the questions that are being asked.

    In my opinion, there are 3 things that we need to do to become more efficient in meetings:

    1. Meetings do not need to be 30 minutes or 1 hour long if you are able to make them shorter, do it. Have a clear agenda and set times for each topic, and if there is a topic that needs a longer discussion do it at the end with the extra time.
    2. Be mindful of other people's time. Engineers are busy, and I personally do not like when people are wasting my time. Be prepared for the meeting with all the information you need to ask the questions and get the answers that are required.
    3. If you see the discussion is stalling in one topic without end, intervene and help the meeting move forward.

    What are some suggestions you have to have more efficient and fulfilling meetings?

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    Luis Duque EIT,A.M.ASCE
    Structural Engineer
    Broomfield CO
    luis@...
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  • 2.  RE: Becoming a Master of Efficient Meetings

    Posted 06-19-2019 07:39 AM
    Thank you for bringing up good points regarding office meetings. Timing and specific agenda is important to call out a meeting. I would say email and let the members know of agenda ahead of the meeting, would be a sufficient way. However, there are times, when meetings become prolonged, but it doesn't mean an endless meeting. If it passes beyond the time slot, simply call a second meeting to look over the issues.

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    Sayed Maqsood S.M.ASCE
    Alameda CA
    (510)830-6285
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  • 3.  RE: Becoming a Master of Efficient Meetings

    Posted 06-20-2019 05:24 PM
    Hey Luis,

    Great point, I can completely relate to people's desires to have efficient meetings. I've had to facilitate meetings both at work and ASCE. If there's one thing that has helped me, it is to clearly convey the purpose of the meeting.

    This is obviously the job of the leader to moderate the flow of the meeting. There are meetings that should be quick and to the point, such as week team updates. There are also meetings that are more free-flowing and less structured such as brainstorming sessions. Setting the objective and expectations up front can be a powerful way of keeping the meeting on track and to the point.

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    Paul Lee P.E.,M.ASCE
    Civil Engineering Associate
    Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power
    Los Angeles CA
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  • 4.  RE: Becoming a Master of Efficient Meetings

    Posted 06-22-2019 04:27 PM
    As I read the original post I had to reflect some and discovered that, thankfully, it had been quite some time since I was in a meeting I considered pointless or a waste of time. As the other posts, pointed out, having a clear purpose or goal for the meeting is important. Also, not everyone needs to be included in every meeting. Its natural to see a meeting occur and get concerned about office politics if you weren't invited but I've become more thankful to see people value my time. Additionally, if you are invited into the meeting you should be aware if your purpose there is to absorb or add value. Some times the purpose of your being in the meeting is simply to absorb the information for a future purpose. That doesn't require hours of discussions.

    Finally, and this has become a general business philosophy for me, allow the meeting to go to a fun place when appropriate even if you didn't plan for it. People are people and we spend much of our time at work -Hopefully it's a place you can be your regular self and enjoy it . As a young professional I used to think that business stuff had to stay in the serious realm, in essence  that there were two separate  worlds - business and personal- and they should never cross, I realize now that's nonsense. You end up doing life with your coworkers...let that happen naturally.

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    Jesse Kamm PhD, PMP, A.M.ASCE
    Senior Vice President of Construction Management
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  • 5.  RE: Becoming a Master of Efficient Meetings

    Posted 06-25-2019 09:24 AM
    Everything I've see about making the meeting more efficient jives with what I would suggest.  For me, there's a few pit falls I see often that are a pet-peeve of mine:
    • Circular Agreement
      • Once a consensus has been reached on a subject, move on.  There's no need to continually add reasons for agreeing with a topic that everyone is on board with.
    • Chiming it to make your presence known
      • Similar with circular agreement, don't feel you need to add something just because you're there unless it's constructive to the meeting.  I notice this more in conference calls, but I see it in all types of meetings.  As Jesse said, sometimes you just need to be absorbing the info.
    • 1 on 1 Discussions
      • Particularly in larger more general meetings, if you have a topic you need to discuss with someone else that only affects either or both of you, wait until after the meeting.  Let them know you'll talk with them after the meeting.
    • No End in Sight
      • If something requires more information before action can be taken, once those items are determined there's no need to hem and haw about what might happen.  It's one to maybe three alternatives and you won't have a lot of time to respond, you can prepare for those but time spent on alternatives that may not come to fruition is usually wasted time.  Don't be afraid to "table it" and save until you have the info you need.
    • No Agenda
      • This has already been touched on, have an agenda.

    Something I used in college that I don't often see in the work force are 'Robert's Rules of Order'.  While it may be too formal for most meetings, it kept things moving along quickly preventing weekly chapter meetings from dragging on.  If you have a recurring meeting or time sensitive one, where information needs to be disseminated quickly and decisions made on items, consider implementing Robert's Rules, or some parts thereof.  Just be ready for some push-back.

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    James Smith P.E.,M.ASCE
    Design Engineer
    Grand Rapids MI
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  • 6.  RE: Becoming a Master of Efficient Meetings

    Posted 06-30-2019 09:18 PM
    Great suggestions so far! One thing I would like to add is:  Make sure those with decision-making authority (if the purpose of the meeting is to decide something and move on) are present at the meeting.

    I've attended far too many meetings with clear agendas and purposes, and then it turns out the person with decision-making authority on a topic isn't there, often because the person sending the invitation for the meeting did not fully understand the whole scope of the challenge, and the players involved.

    In the consulting structural engineer environment, here's a couple of examples I've seen: an EIT is sent to the meeting on a complicated issue when their supervising PE should really be there, the structural engineer is asked to resolve a soils-related issue that is in the geotechnical engineer's scope, the mechanical engineer is asked if some openings can be moved (at least for building design, that answer requires input from the architect and structural engineer at a minimum), or it's really an owner's decision, and there's no owner rep attending.

    When this happens, you end up needing to attend (at least) two meetings and rehash things, often with a different conclusion.  Or you spend hours documenting sketches and revisiting how the decision was made, for something that would have taken 15 minutes to resolve had everyone been in attendance at the meeting. It's a giant time waster. One thing I've found that helps is to look through all agenda items in advance, and double checking that if there are items to be resolved where my discipline takes the lead, that all players with a say are actually attending the meeting.

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    Stephanie Slocum P.E.,M.ASCE
    Founder
    Engineers Rising LLC
    www.engineersrising.com
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  • 7.  RE: Becoming a Master of Efficient Meetings

    Posted 07-18-2019 05:04 PM

    Some Meeting Process Ideas:

    1. Right at the start, before any agenda item is started, one person announces and gets agreement they will be this meeting's "Facilitator." This means they get to tell anyone, at any time to stop, start, "OK, but we'll get back to you in a few moments," etc.

    2. Assign a meeting note taker using a prepared form/format that records decision making and accountability/responsibility/due-dates, etc.

    3. Place a chart up on the wall labelled "Parking Lot." Anyone who raises an issue NOT on the preprinted agenda gets out of their chair (as the meeting continues) and writes it/places it "In the parking lot!"

    4. The last 6 minutes of the meeting is reserved for "Hits & Misses." Going around the room, person by person, each BRIEFLY shares first one" Hit"this meeting had for them. And then it goes again for each to share BRIEFLY one "Miss."  NO PROBLEM-FIXING IN THIS MEETING SPACE.

     N.B. I am certain you will be able to add to, and improve this

    "QA Meeting Success Guide."

     

    Cheers,

    Bill

     




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    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880
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  • 8.  RE: Becoming a Master of Efficient Meetings

    Posted 08-28-2019 07:30 PM
    In 1969, Robert Townsend, then CEO of Avis who masterminded their turnaround, wrote a best-selling book that to a large degree upended common corporate thought. The book was titled "Up The Organization: How to Stop the Corporations From Stifling People and Stifling Profits". His take on meetings was that if a meeting had more than two people, everyone had to stand up for the meeting .It did indeed shorten the meetings.

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    James Worrell
    Mostly Retired
    PE, RLS (retired)
    Raleigh NC
    jimworrell@...
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