ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

November 1997


Quality Is No 'Easy Rider'
Accountability, Confrontation two keys to success at Harley-Davidson

Rebel With A Cause
Who is accountable for productive meetings.

Measure for Measure
Merrill Lynch relies on measurements for success and customer satisfaction


When Change Is No Change At All
by Peter Block

The Balance Sheet: Hidden Costs of Open Book Management
by Cathy Kramer


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review

Letters to the Editor


Rebel With A Cause
The Role of Personal Accountability in Meetings

Diane Andrews is something of a rebel and risk-taker.
In an era of meetings - planning, problem solving, fact-finding, information sharing, open space and even virtual meetings - she has learned to say no. As an internal consultant for Raytheon Texas Instruments, Plano, Texas, Andrews has started to evaluate and hold herself accountable for her attendance at meetings. "I have started to look at the fact of whether I have to be a part of the meeting, or can I just read the minutes," says Andrews. "Many times people attend meetings who do not need to be there and that creates frustration. After all, time being wasted upsets people. In a culture of heightened personal accountability, we need to carefully evaluate how we spend our time."

Meetings cost companies big bucks. For example, five people with salaries and benefits of $50,000 attending an hourly meeting once a week for a year cost the company $15,000 annually. Multiply that by the average meeting attendance in a week of 10 hours and the organization is spending $150,000 a year - not exactly small potatoes even for large companies.

Many organizations equate the call for greater participation with conducting more meetings. 'Let's meet next week from 2-4 p.m. and we can solve all of our problems,' is a common refrain. And anyone who has attended such a meeting experiences the frustration when the promise dissolves before their eyes. The problem is not solved, time has been wasted and revenue lost. What can you do? Get an experienced facilitator - right? Not necessarily.

Is Effective Facilitation the Key?
Michael Glowacki has facilitated teams for seventeen years. "People make meetings lousy because they can not present or defend a position," says Glowacki, principal, Glow Consulting, Chicago, Ill. "The people in the meeting make the outcomes, the facilitator provides the format." Even with a clear format and purpose for the meeting it can fail. "You have all the right people in the meeting, selected for their expertise and knowledge, and they have nothing to say. They thought they just had to show up." As a facilitator, Glowacki works hard at pre-meeting work talking individually with attendees. "Sometimes, even then, the only preparation the individual will have done is the time spent talking with you."

Still, Glowacki believes a good facilitator can make any meeting effective. "The problem is when someone is a good facilitator it looks so effortless. Few people realize that like a great actor who has rehearsed and studied a script, a facilitator does more than prepare flip charts. They take all the process items out of a meeting so that everyone can focus on the real issues."

Andrews agrees only in part. "While the role of the facilitator is to manage the process, when meetings fail it is too easy to blame the facilitator. As a meeting participant we are responsible as well. We can do things to turn meetings around. Making procedural suggestions such as this discussion has gone on too long. People expect that to be the facilitator's role, however it is everyone's responsibility to be proactive in keeping a meeting on track, effective and productive."

Using Your Own Two Feet
One of the most intriguing tenets of open-space meetings is the 'two feet' rule. In essence, if you are not contributing or receiving anything from a meeting - use your two feet and leave. "This rule gets at the concept of whose meeting it is and who is accountable for the success," according to Jamie Showkeir, president, Metanoia, and partner in Designed Learning, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Meetings are a method of deliberation. "Most meetings occur by hierarchy or function and that is part of the reason they are so often unproductive. They do not take into account the interdependencies that occur to get work done for the customers."

"Too often we view the person who called the meeting as accountable for the success," Showkeir continues. "John called the meeting, therefore I have to let him do his thing. But it is really our meeting and we need to be a part of that. It is effective to have a conversation at the start of the meeting around whose meeting it is and if you do not want to stay - don't."

In organizations where meetings complete with detailed agendas, including the requisite scheduled breaks, and fifty overheads are the norm - leaving can be risky. For Showkeir the issue of personal accountability is more important than the risk of not looking like a 'team' player. "If I am in a culture where challenging and questioning the agenda is not seen as being a team player, then serious questions arise concerning my personal accountability for the business. Within many organizations I work with, some form of this collusion exists and no one talks about it. But if the individual does not raise these issues they can blame no one but themselves."

Too often the role of the facilitator becomes a focus of control and power. "Meeting facilitation isn't all that hard," says Showkeir. "It is a set of tools and techniques that need to be dispersed widely throughout the organization."

Leaders Ask the Tough Questions
What can leaders do to help their organizations create a culture of accountability for time spent in meetings as well as a culture where the courage to take risks and question purpose are second nature? Showkeir believes that pursuing these issues only at meetings is not enough. "It starts with ongoing conversations around: 'Why are we here on a daily basis?' 'What are the issues around profitability, reducing cycle time, ensuring quality and creating unique responses for our customers?'" And it is not easy. It doesn't occur at just one meeting but needs to be fulfilled on a continual basis.

Yes, Diane Andrews is something of a rebel and risk taker. But she is also exercising effective leadership by example. Her focus on having a clear purpose, of being prepared and ultimately accountable for how she spends her time in service to her organization takes courage but is a safeguard that the meetings she attends, at least, will be productive.

Nov. '97 News for a Change | Email Editor
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