Lean Transformations Group

Show Respect for Your Team Members, Don’t Waste Their Time

What is the most valuable thing most of us have? What is totally irreplaceable and we wish we had more of it (almost daily)? Of course it’s our time. At work, seldom is there enough time to get done what we need to do as value creators. What is a wonderful way to show respect for our fellow value creators? Don’t waste their time. But our leaders do it to us regularly, and we do it to each other most of the time when we call meetings.

In Toyota in Japan, one of the ways leaders show respect for those who create value for the business is through following the principle of what they call “line out.” This is the practice of organizing production lines and work flow so what operators need to do their job flows to them with a minimum of additional effort. The intent is to assure that there are as few interruptions to performing value-added work as possible.

Given that in North America when it comes to operations, the focus for respect and convenience has traditionally flowed in the opposite direction, it is not likely we will reach that ideal in our lean efforts in the near future. Most of us aren’t bad leaders and meeting initiators; we’re just not thoughtful. In the process, we end up being disrespectful of the people we ask to attend meetings without realizing it.

You’ve been to hundreds of business meetings in your career. They used to be face-to-face in conference rooms; now they’re mostly face-to-screen on a virtual online platform. Whatever the venue or medium, you have most likely experienced one, more, or all of the following:

  • You’re waiting for the meeting to start as the clock ticks past the start time. People come in late. If the leader is a manager, he or she likely also rushes in late from another meeting.
  • You’re often not clear on why you are there other than perhaps the fact that you were asked/told to be.
  • Often, you don’t know what the meeting is about or what it is meant to accomplish. (And even when you do know the purpose of the meeting, you often don’t know how the meeting is going to go or how you are expected to contribute.)
  • You sit there listening to back and forth “smart-talk” as some people push their perspectives or refute others without the discussion settling anything.
  • As the meeting end time approaches, your mind is elsewhere. You squirm, worrying about getting to your next meeting, an important phone call, or a deadline.

It’s no surprise that the meeting often runs over as the leader rushes to get everything done and says there’ll be another meeting to wrap things up.

I admit, I hoped that when we began having to meet through online platforms that the more constrained medium (plus participants’ ability to disengage or disconnect without it being as obvious) might have forced meeting organizers to be more conscious of what they ask of participants and more deliberate in planning meetings. But unfortunately, I see little evidence of that. The responsibility for these short oversights, and the disrespect they imply, is on us as meeting conveners.

These are a few of the thoughtless behaviors I’ve observed—and did and sometimes still do myself—in setting up virtual business meetings that I consider carryovers from old bad habits:

  • Send an email invitation that provides a meeting link, but do not describe the nature or purpose of the meeting.
  • Launch into meetings without sharing an agenda as though we expect everyone to know the meeting topic and what the outcome relative to that topic is supposed to be. Along these lines, we give participants little or no explanation of why they are asked to attend and no description of what they are expected to contribute other than their presence.
  • Call meetings for the purpose of sharing information that could well be provided in more efficient and effective ways. Apparently, it is quicker and easier to get a group of people together and talk at them than it is to figure out what you need to communicate and condense it and write it as a message.
  • Include people in meetings just so they will hear what is said or discussed in case they need to know when we don’t need them to present to contribute.
  • Fail to propose a process for reaching whatever outcome we have in mind and just let the discussions roll, apparently assuming it will produce something worthwhile. We also seldom ask participants if they agree to the outcome or process for the meeting or if they have suggestions for improving the process.
  • Fail to manage discussions in meetings which allows people to disintegrate into prolong exchanges of opinions which are dominated by a vocal few while the other participants just sit.
  • And finally, though this is far from the end of the list, as meeting leaders, we don’t attempt to draw the ideas of the less outspoken members into the discussions (or protect them when they do speak up).

Things like engagement, respect, safety, and trust in such online meetings are generally low or non-existent, making participants hesitant to speak up. And these kinds of meetings are highly disrespectful because they usually waste the time, knowledge, and thinking of participants and do not enable them to contribute in meaningful ways. This means that most online meetings are not improvements on most face-to-face meetings. But virtual meetings and all business meetings could be better social and human experiences—for the participants and worthwhile work efforts for their businesses—if the initiators and/or leaders thought through and then shared essential meeting information.

I want to offer a proposal that may be a small, but significant step toward reminding us how to better use of time and effort the participants in our meetings. They could be more respectful and productive if were to draw on the wisdom of Jim Womack's framework: Purpose, Process, People. By providing this basic information in meeting invitations and reviewing it again at the start of a meeting, we can likely make meetings a great deal more successful for us as leaders and satisfying for participants. 

PURPOSE: What’s the meeting about? Name the topic, the outcome (assessment of the situation, agreement, solution, strategy, recommendation, decision, plan), and its importance to the business.

PROCESS: What will be the method for reaching the outcome (analysis, discussion, negotiation, problem solving, review, reflection, planning), and what’s the agenda we propose ?

PEOPLE: Who will participate in the meeting and what role(s) will they play in the process? How will team members contribute to the outcome (direct participant, stake holder, decision-maker, subject matter expert, reporter, reviewer, group leader, team member, recorder, observer)?

People have a basic need to know what’s going on, know what is expected of them, and know that they are respected for the value they can add. By simply thinking through and providing this information to our team members, we show respect for those we invite to any meeting. As leaders and conveners, sharing Purpose, Process, and People is a small, but respectful step in the right direction.

Improving most things in a business or service operation requires time, effort, and money. The cost of respecting other people by not wasting their time and ability to contribute in meetings is, however, very low. Developing the habit and the return can have benefit beyond estimate. We have little data on its impact on work environment, relationships and engagement, and organizational and operational performance—because there are very few businesses where the behavior is the practice—but how different might our work lives be if we did?

Significantly improving your
operational performance.

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