Taking a page from Disney's playbook might help lessen the duration and frequency of meetings
In late 2016, jobs site Monster posted a blog about the signs of overworked managers. Among the telltale omens were forgetting things, being on edge, being late to meetings and feeling exhausted.
Based on results from a 2015 survey by the Center for Creative Leadership, it's likely many managers experience these symptoms. Survey researchers concluded that respondents, who included professionals, managers, and executives, reported interacting with work about 13.5 hours every workday. That's 72 hours per week including weekend work. They also found that on average, respondents only had about three hours on workdays for "discretionary" activities such as being with their family, exercising, showering, and chores around the house. But instead of blaming devices like smartphones for keeping them tethered, they blamed their companies' poor management processes.
One of these time-wasting processes is the scheduling of unnecessary meetings. When you look deeper, companies incur a cost of $338, on average, when businesses bring employees into meetings. These costs can really add up as wasted expense in cases where "open ended" meetings like brainstorming get off task — and it is precisely the area where a strategic plan and methodology for meetings can help.
How can a formal methodology improve the results of brainstorming and other types of meetings without losing great ideas that might be tangential to a meeting's purpose, but valuable when they are plugged into future contexts?
Jerry McNellis, one of the chief innovators of a process called Compression Planning, believes that meeting techniques like storyboarding can help keep managers keep the more open-ended and creative meetings like brainstorming on track.
The storyboarding meeting technique was first developed by Walt Disney employees in the early 1930s. The goal of the Disney storyboarding process was to collect all of the best ideas from creative collaborators in the course of developing a cartoon or a motion picture—and then to evolve these rough illustrations, dialogue and plot into an organized end-to-end story sequence on a board that everyone could see.
Each frame of the story that was posted onto the storyboard was illustrated. Minimal dialogue was pencilled in to show where the story was heading. As the collaborators brainstormed and added more illustrations to the storyboard, frames were rearranged as needed and a plot began to emerge that everyone could visualize.
Once a storyboard was visualized, it could be tested to see it the story worked before expensive investments were made into graphics and production.
McNellis says that to keep brainstorming meetings on task, meeting leaders should first design a structure for the flow of the meeting, along with defining a clear meeting objective. One of the work products from this process is a pre-published agenda for meeting attendees, which is common meeting practice today.
However, once the meeting starts, there is an immediate departure from standard practice in McNellis' method.
Instead of just calling a meeting to order with a pre-published agenda, the manager (or meeting leader) begins to inject storyboarding—by listing the meeting objective, posting up brainstorming ideas on a board that directly contribute to the objective, and designating off-agenda and/or tangential contributions to a "deferred" area on the board for discussion at a later time.
The group then organizes ideas into a sequential storyboard that is posted on a board or wall in order to fully visualize the objective and the sequence of ideas and events that will lead to fulfillment of the objective.
Once the meeting's objective is achieved, the manager/leader summarizes results.
Before trying Compression Planning as an approach to brainstorming meetings, managers should do several things:
Make sure that you yourself are comfortable with the approach. You can do this by first trying the technique with a pilot meeting group, and then getting together with the group to discuss what went well and what didn't.
Next, plan to educate your group at the same time that you are directing the brainstorming meeting using Compression Planning. Like you, meeting participants will be new to the technique. It is important that you explain to them the method and why you believe it will be effective.
Finally, prepare for mixed reviews. All of us have our comfort zones, so no matter how great a meeting approach might be, there will be always be initial detractors as well as enthusiasts. Be prepared to deal with constructive criticism so you can continually refine your process.
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