Put an End to Unproductive Meetings

Dec 27, 2018

This article is written by Predictable Success Consultant Alex Thatcher.

Alex Thatcher, Predictable Success Consultant

Isn’t it depressing when you know a meeting is going to be unproductive before it even begins? First you receive a calendar invite with a cryptic subject line and no additional meeting details. Then you arrive on time, only to find that no one else has. Once others start filing in, a random conversation begins.

Eventually, the meeting accidentally kicks off, only to be hijacked by someone who leads it down a long, winding rabbit hole around a detail of questionable relevance. Ten minutes later, you’re left wondering which way is up, which way is down, and more importantly, which way is the door so you can get out of this disaster.

Unable to escape, you endure a painful, hour-long conversation, only to have everyone abruptly leave when the hour strikes. You leave dejected – wondering what just happened, unsure whether any decisions were made, and with a certainty that nobody is going to do anything about it.

Why The Lack of Clarity
Meetings like this are a common occurrence for the company in Whitewater. This is because the organization is more complex (more products, more services, more geographies, more decision-makers, more, more, more…) but hasn’t yet figured out how to deal with that complexity in an effective way.

Clarity is not the hallmark of the Whitewater organization. In fact, the opposite is often true. Organizations have become accustomed to relying on a lot of scrambling and superhuman effort to make decisions, deliver for customers, and make things work. This chaos begins to become part of the culture of the organization, and sometimes companies even start to pride themselves on their ability to improvise their way to success. However, not only is this not sustainable, it’s also not scalable.

Thankfully, there’s a better way. Before we examine what that is, let’s take a brief look at the players involved.

The VOP Team
When an organization is in Whitewater, it’s typically made up of Visionaries, Operators, and one (or more) newly added Processor(s). While these leadership styles each offer unique talents, they also present challenges, especially when it comes to communicating with each other. Meetings are just one of the places where conflicts can arise.

And while it would be wonderful if the fourth leadership style, the Synergist, could come in and smooth away these tensions, the VOP team just isn’t at a place where they can be receptive to a Synergist’s contributions during early- and mid-Whitewater.

The good news is that regardless of your primary leadership style, you can still learn to use these three Synergist tools to keep meetings on the right track:

1. A Synergist Frames
Because it is important to the Synergist that everyone be on the same page, he or she often will take the time to frame any discussion prior to having it.

Before allowing a group of people to get into a detailed discussion, it’s essential to clarify which galaxy, solar system, and planet we are on first. This is an especially helpful skill when people start working more cross-functionally in Whitewater – trying to meet and think about areas that are not within their specific expertise.

Before getting a group of people together to talk, for example, about the details of a specific customer account, it is helpful to take two minutes upfront to frame the discussion by reminding the group what we’re meeting about, what was decided last time, what we plan to decide this time, and where we’re going from here. This almost always leads to a better, richer, more relevant discussion for the remaining 58 minutes. Framing is a critical skill to develop for anyone trying to get a group of people on the same page.

Enjoying this Article Banner2. A Synergist Focuses on Why
Why matters! While this is part of framing, it’s worth calling out separately due to its importance.

Amidst the Whitewater scrambling that takes place, it’s easy to start doing things and not even be sure (or forget) why we’re even doing them. Why always matters, and it’s important not to let the organization forget what that ‘Why’ is.

Getting into the habit of maintaining a consistent focus on Why as an organization moves into Predictable Success will also help prevent an early slide into Treadmill, where one of the core problems is having too many people with a focus on checking boxes without an understanding of why the boxes even matter.

3. A Synergist Reminds
If lack of clarity is what plagues the organization in Whitewater, resulting in indecision and stagnation, then tapping into the Synergist mindset can play a significant role in overcoming this problem. Synergists often provide the clarity that everyone in the room needs to keep things moving forward.

Whereas back in Fun it was easy to leave the room with everyone on the same page, now just 30 minutes after a meeting people are trying to remember what they are supposed to do. Never let a meeting end without clarifying decisions and next steps. Then continue to remind the organization what has been decided and who is doing what to achieve organizational goals.

It may seem like this is simple, even perhaps overkill – but it’s not. Organizations need people who are continually reminding us where we’re going, why it matters, and how we’re going to get there.

If Not You, Then Who?
Who is the clarifier in your organization? If nobody is framing discussions, telling us why they matter, and reminding us to do what we said was important to do, then it is likely that your organization will fall short of its goals. If you see this happening, use it as an opportunity to flex your Synergist muscle!


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