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Time for an Audit?!

No, not a financial audit – a meetings audit. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with a client and look at all the meetings they attended. Since this person is the leader of the organization, we were able to evaluate and make improvements to all the meetings.

First question for a meetings audit – what is the desired outcome of bringing people together? Or – Why is this meeting necessary? If this is just for information sharing, there may be no need to gather. We are all literate and can read information. If the desired outcome is to have a conversation about strategic and/or special issues, then the next question is who needs to be present? A common collaborative question is - are you doing something about me – without me? It is most efficient to have the right people in the meeting from the very beginning.

The next question is about frequency - How often do we need to meet? I always suggest that this be discussed with the group and to lean in the direction of less often to begin. I have found that frequency is also directly influenced by the needs of any given leader. At the highest level of this client’s organization, the leader has found it helpful to meet with direct reports (a group less than 6) – for strategic input monthly. Operations meetings are every other week to coordinate tactical issues related to resources and people. Outside of these two meetings, the executive team meets at a frequency of every other month to dive into issues such as: updating market projections, IT needs, HR, and other specific issues. And finally, there is at least an annual full day off-site for long term strategic planning.

With this audit, we started with a blank slate and added meetings back after asking all the above questions. Many organizations and leaders inherit meetings and never reflect on if they are still necessary and helpful (meet a desired outcome). Unfortunately, “let’s have a meeting” is too often a reflexive rather than reflective action.

When one engages in a financial audit, an outside company is hired to come in and do the work. For a meetings audit, it is helpful to do the same. The objectivity of someone from the outside, allows you to ask and answer the harder questions and break away from what I call “the ritual of the habitual” in organizations. Meetings and the associated time and resources are often the most expensive activities in any organization. Time for an audit?!

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