In an effort to save money, and time, IT executives are putting a twist on the “classic” once-a-week staff meeting. Some are running group meetings on a less frequent schedule and firmly sticking to the agenda. Others are restructuring their schedules to provide more time for one-on-one meetings. Whichever the approach, the goal is the same: to give high-salaried IT managers more time to do their jobs and to make sure that valuable staff workday time isn’t wasted.

Communicating both ways
Kirk Swilley schedules his days to allow for both group meetings and one-on-ones with his team members. The CIO of the City of Wichita, KS, holds a staff meeting with his leadership team every two weeks to update the group on project progress and to discuss issues that concern the entire group.

“These meetings are meant to foster teamwork, share information and ideas, keep our strategy alignment, and further [the team] culture,” he explained. The team culture includes customer service, ingenuity, and fiscal responsibility requirements.

Perhaps more than some executives, Swilley also likes to hold one-on-one meetings to discuss operational issues and to help team members feel valued, and sees these meetings as an opportunity to celebrate the “small victories” as staff solves problems or passes project milestones.

Each IT team member is allotted an hour a week to meet with Swilley, although either party can skip the meeting if they feel that it’s not necessary. Although informal, these one-on-one meetings have specific goals, says the CIO.

“I expect them to make sure that I know the major things and personnel issues that are going on in their groups, so I ask them to bring a bulleted list of issues and occurrences,” explained Swilley. It’s also a chance for staffers to talk about “softer” topics, such as concerns and thoughts about the company organization.

Both the team meetings and one-on-ones have an overall orientation toward the tactical side of running the department.

“For strategy sessions, I may bring in folks other than just my leadership team,” said Swilley, who facilitates these targeted sessions that have specific agendas or needs.

Staying on target
Kevin McDermott, who is managing director of Major Scale Technology Management, Inc., and has worked as a CIO and project leader, also strives to keep meetings on target.

“As a CIO, I held weekly staff meetings with my direct reports and a monthly meeting with the business department heads,” he recalled.

McDermott kept the weekly staff meetings short with a simple agenda. The meetings began with a review of high-level projects, followed by an open discussion of issues. One of McDermott’s secrets to keeping meetings under an hour was keeping food away.

“Most technical workers hate meetings, so I felt having food would only prolong it.” This rule is flexible, he added, as his consultant clients sometimes request a meeting over a meal.

McDermott has strong feelings about other potential distractions, such as presentation tools.

“I have generally stayed away from using any audiovisual aids or computers during meetings. I’d rather have a piece of paper in front of everyone and have them looking at each other, rather than at a projection screen.”

In consulting, McDermott tries to keep meetings focused by creating an agenda for comments a few days ahead of time. “Anyone with any input has to get back to me beforehand, though of course if something genuinely important comes up, we’ll handle it in the meeting,” he explained.

TechRepublic member John Tieso, now president of Tieso & Associates Inc., believes that the best agenda is “direct, tight, and specific on time limits.” His 30-plus years of tech experience, including time at the U.S. Department of Defense, have led him to conclude that IT meetings “need to be very structured” and, when possible, should “deal with only one major issue at a time.” Time limits can keep the discussion focused on solutions and can help avoid creating a public forum for disagreements. “We try not to have part of the meeting be a [complaining] session because it represents wasted time,” he said.

Time is money
Saving staff time can do more than lower frustration levels—it can actually improve staff attitudes toward the meetings. Less time wasted by any staffer means that a company’s money is being well spent. TechRepublic member Mark Osoteo is a support specialist/IS manager who has done the math.

“I’ve been in meetings of a 20-person technical staff for three hours, and the costs quickly add up,” he wrote in a recent CIO Republic discussion. Consider a meeting with 20 people who have an average salary around $50,000, which makes the hourly wage for each person $30. Over three hours, that meeting costs the company $90 per person. As Osoteo pointed out, that adds up to “$1,800 bucks for one morning!”

Of course, it’s not all wasted money, but Osoteo calculated that “if you consider what the DBA or Web master got out of that meeting, for example, maybe only 30 minutes was worth their time.” The IT member wasted 2œ hours of his time, and the company spent $75 that may not have been necessary, he added.

Sticking to an agenda and eliminating distractions clearly reduces wasted time and money. Yet CIOs have to keep in mind that meeting approaches should fit the needs, and requirements, of both managers and staff. As Swilley said, “I like to meet with my folks as much as they need me to meet with them.”