By Jason O’Neill, Head of Global Training Services, Kepner-Tregoe, Inc.

How often have you gone to a meeting where discussions were held, decisions considered, yet nothing was really accomplished? Adding a layer of inconvenience and stress, our global economy can stretch meetings across time zones while matrixed organizations can demand diverse participation across functions. 

All meetings, whether face-to-face, on the phone, or online, steal time from other responsibilities so it is critical to get the most out of the time spent.

To make meetings count, many organizations use the concepts of Kepner-Tregoe Situation Appraisal (SA) as an organizing tool. This classic KT process is used for breaking down situations into actionable and prioritized components.  When applied to planning meetings, SA focuses activity so that information can be shared and actions taken or assigned.

Our clients use SA to plan meetings to dramatically improve meeting effectiveness while slashing time spent.

Use these simple, tried-and-true SA process steps before scheduling your next meeting.

1.  Identify concerns. This activity provides the meat for your agenda and the reasons you are bothering to get together.  To identify concerns and shape your agenda, ask questions like:

  • What decisions need to be made?
  • What plans should be implemented?
  • What changes are anticipated?
  • What opportunities exist?
  • What deviations are occurring?
  • What bothers us about…?

2. Separate and clarify concerns. It is time to be specific and focus your agenda so everyone understands each issue. Take a look at the concerns you have listed and ask:

  • What do we mean by…?
  • What exactly is…?
  • What else concerns us about…?
  • What evidence do we have that…?

These questions focus concerns so they will be understood and actionable. At this point, you can see if the concern requires making a decision, solving a problem, considering a risk, etc. Separating and clarifying focuses the meeting activity and any work going forward.

Once you have identified, separated and clarified your concerns, reconsider the necessity of a meeting and who is attending the meeting.  Can you address your concerns another way? Who does and doesn’t need to attend?

3.Set Priority. Once you have identified and clarified concerns, it is time to prioritize them. With everyone stretched to the limit and juggling too much at once, it is important to identify what matters most on your agenda. These are the critical few things that just can’t slip. Let questions like these guide you as you set priority:

  • If left unresolved, how and when will the seriousness change?
  • What evidence do you have?
  • Which concern is getting worse quicker?
  • What is the deadline…when do we start?
  • When would resolution become difficult, expensive, impossible, or simply meaningless?
  • Which concern will be the hardest to solve later?

To make meetings more efficient, focus on high-priority concerns.  Consider whether those with lower priority can be dealt with outside of the meeting.  Some may be so low-priority they don’t require attention now, or at all.  Focusing only on the critical issues will help keep the team on-track and avoid distractions that waste time.

With these clarified and prioritized concerns in hand, you have an agenda that focuses on important issues, and you can better identify who should be at your meeting. The top priority concern will be your primary meeting objective. Finesse your agenda by estimating the time you need to spend on each item and consider if there is any reason to work through the issues in non-priority order.  At this time you can also determine if any pre-work, materials, or pre-meeting instructions should be requested.

Taking these three Situation Appraisal steps—Identify Concerns, Separate and Clarify Concerns, Set Priority—is a small, upfront investment of time and reflection that can yield big results.  Clients report that they not only accomplish more in meetings, they also find that people are more willing to attend a well-planned, purposeful meeting and to share responsibility for resolving concerns.

()