I am busy, lots of meetings, can't get anything done!  A surefire way to know a drastic change is needed.

There was a standard production meeting in comfy chairs that usually ran over an hour every day.  We had lots of data to review and had interesting discussions on what happened the previous day and what we should do today to make it better.  We were comfortable and all got along for the most part.

Then a new leader came, and everything got moved to the shop floor.  Yes, a switch to standing, not air conditioned, and exposed for the world to see.  Boards went up, accountability was driven by dates and names on boards, and focus was driven in the agenda and outcome.  Numbers and profits went up.  Okay, it was not based on this sole change, but I can tell you being a part of this transition, we were never going back.  Less comfortable yes, more valued and engaged as a team, absolutely!

This significant event forever changed my views on meetings.  It became very clear who was responsible for what, and you knew the next day you were on the spot.  Having been in that new system, succeeding, you almost forget how it once was.  How could you operate without documented accountability?

Getting lost in one meeting after another is a top challenge for many.  You can get on track by taking a look at 3 simple areas: Why so many meetings? Who really needs to be there? And What are the meetings about.

Gather the Data

Before you look at making any improvements you need to know your current situation.


1/ Get your main team together, your A team, leaders of each department.

2/ All you need are some different colored sticky notes, enough to pass around.

3/ Designate 5 sections on an open wall, one for each day of the week at the top, and some on the far left to designate groupings of the time of day.

4/ As a team discussion – what are the standing meetings that every manager must attend – this should be a smaller number.  Use one color.  On the note, put the name of the meeting, who facilitates it, and the time and day of the week.  Stick it on the wall – if it is every day, you need five stickers.

5/ Each department would add on their standing meetings, the one’s they would chair.  Same procedure, different color.

6/ Now with another color, anyone can add the external meetings they are required to attend.  This could be corporate conference calls or meetings with your customer.

Now take a picture!  You will want to compare current and future state.

Often when I’ve facilitated this exercise there was a basic concern for too many meetings, so the wall is usually pretty full.  If yours is not, then you are doing well.  You can’t fix what you are not willing to expose, so congratulations if you made it this far.

Add up the number of hours per day of meetings, you can do this as a total for the group, and for the individuals in the room.

The Why?

 Which are the most important ones? Think as if you were an investor, starting this company.  Which meetings are vital to the business?  Which ones are in place to manage a lack of accountability or as a checkup status to ensure we are all doing what we are supposed to be doing?  This is tough, and it is not about history or ego, instead, what really needs to happen to turn those manufacturing gears?

How do you choose to spend your time, ideal state?

Over and over again one of the biggest frustrations with leaders in manufacturing is that they spend too much time in meetings and working on reports, and not enough time making improvements or being on the shop floor supporting their teams.

The crazy thing is how the verbiage is usually in a ‘victim’ mode.  Like there is nothing we can do about it.  Like a snowstorm or a flood, or a robot breaking down where we did not estimate the fatigue.  How you spend your time is one of the aspects of life that is within your control; no excuses, you get what you accept!

The Who

Who really needs to be there?  Nothing kills the energy of a meeting like having people attend, who do not need to be there.  Is that person going to contribute to the meeting?  If you never speak during the meeting, you do not need to be there.  ‘Oh these people should go, it is good information and exposure.’  Not true – we learn by being involved, not by listening and sitting with no engagement.  That is like learning to play golf by watching it.  What kid likes to sit in a cart and never swing a club and go through 18 holes?  Makes no sense yet I see it all of the time.  An easy way to determine who needs to be there.

The What

Now you have the bare minimum number of meetings, and only people contributing need to be there.  Let’s talk about content.

Where’s the beef?

I have a favorite question to use about meetings.  I asked this recently at a workshop with a group of executives; ‘Are your meetings exciting, like an entertaining movie?  Are you invigorated after having them, and feel like you moved forward as a team?’  I got a look like I had two heads and was from another planet.  There is a whole topic here around the trust on a team to have good debate, but for the sake of keeping this article brief, as I could go on for a whole book, I will give you one gauge:

Are we updating on tasks, or discussing items from the past?  POW!  It’s that simple.  Technology development in communication is growing faster than we can keep up, yet it is still a common barrier to great success.  Email is good, for simple communication of basic information!  Common sites to update your data and progress works well.  Many companies use the green, yellow, red format for the status of tasks.  And we love to talk about the green ones, the ones that are on time.  Why?  Because it is less comfortable to talk about the reds!  However, those are the ones we should be discussing as team to understand how we ALL support to get back on track.  Ideas, concepts, challenging each other on mindsets and belief windows, pushing each other to do great things we did not think we were capable of.  Define who is responsible for what.  A little tension in the room is not bad thing, we all become better for it.  Make decisions, be brave, fail forward, take a risk!

I ask you, the next time your find yourself complaining about meetings, push yourself and your team to go through this exercise.  Whatever time you put into the exercise will get you much more time saved back from future meetings.

Written by Trevor Blondeel, copyright January 2020.


Meet Trevor and learn how he can help you lead more productive meetings.


Leave a Reply