The Two Meetings That Should Be Mandatory

It's easy to assume that because we named our company "Stop Meeting Like This" that we think meetings are bad. It's important to clarify that we believe meetings are an essential forum for collaborating, sharing information and making decisions. In fact, what we want to talk about today is the two meetings every company should be having.

The first is the "Stop Work" meeting. This is the conversation where we systematically review every project and significant piece of work that is underway to remind ourselves how each is creating value for the organization. This conversation is essential to eliminating reports no one reads, identifying redundant efforts in different parts of the organization, and holding a high standard for how time and energy are expended.

Human nature seems particularly resistant to shutting projects down and highly adept at launching them. No doubt there is egoic attachment to ideas, but even great ideas are sometimes wrong for the particular circumstances. Does your organization have the discipline to seek these out and then more importantly, to shut them down? Most don't. In fact one of my clients recently confessed to having over 800 systemwide projects underway resulting in hundreds of corresponding HR and IT efforts.

Here are several ways to structure an effective "Stop Work" meeting:

  • Clean slate: everything starts "off the table" and work is added back on, based on its contribution to strategy and goals.
  • Scenarios: Give leaders a "stop" target and ask them to bring proposals for which initiatives and ongoing work should be eliminated; meet as a group to review and make final decisions to ensure no unintended consequences
  • Elimination round: Assemble a roster of all of the major work and initiatives. Put it on the wall and ask leaders to "make a case" for what should be eliminated; decide based on the strength of the arguments
  • Buy a priority: Present a view of the portfolio. Give each leader a metaphorical100 to spend across the set of projects. Ask them to allocate their100. Step back to look at the big picture. Are there items no one "funded?" Those are good candidates for closer scrutiny.

The easiest way to improve the performance and efficiency of your organization is to focus on the critical few priorities and stop everything else.

Which leads to the second meeting every organization should be having on a regular basis: Project Portfolio Assessment. Typically led by the Chief Operating Officer, these sessions are aimed at ensuring that the Stop Work efforts aren't undermined by surreptitious regrowth or ongoing projects that have failed to deliver on expectations but continue to get funding. (For more insight on "zombie" projects and their impact on innovation, check out this great HBR article.) Project Portfolio Assessment sessions provide a forum for project owners to be held accountable for delivering on the strategic milestones -- and for the team to have robust dialogue on project and portfolio performance. Done well, these conversations surface interdependencies between efforts, problem-solve looming roadblocks and lay the foundation for effective decision-making at major milestones.

The trick to making these meetings worth the investment (like most things) is leadership commitment. Leaders need to have the discipline and will to say no to efforts that sound worthy on their own merits but don't meet the collective standard. It's important to keep asking the question posed so artfully by Bain consultants Michael Mankins, Chris Brahm, and Gregory Caimi in their provocative HBR article: "If your organization managed it's time the way it manages its money, what would be different?"