Smart Small Group Engagement Improves Meeting Productivity

Imagine this.  You are invited to a brainstorming meeting with top level executives regarding a new product that you are going to help market.  So you show up a little ahead of time and carefully choose a seat at the boardroom table.  The CEO arrives on time and begins the discussion.   You listen intently as the meeting starts to unfold.  The CEO surveys the room, then suddenly stops and focuses in on you.  “Who are you?” the CEO says.  You introduce yourself and explain why you are there.  The CEO replies, “I don’t think we need you in this meeting.   Thanks.”   Then as you pack up and make the long trek from your seat to the boardroom door, the CEO continues as if you never existed.  What just happened, you wonder?  What did I do?  What should I have done differently?


As a problem solver, you want to figure this out, fix it and move forward.  The fact is, you probably didn’t do anything wrong per se.  But, you had insights that would benefit the team and you did not share them.  Moral to the story:   If you are on a team, participate in the discussion and add value to the team or else you may be asked to leave.  No one has your same experience, education, and insights.  Trust your gut.  Cut to the chase when the time is right.  It does not benefit the team if you hold back.  No one, not even Patrick Jane, “The Mentalist”, is truly a mind reader.


Chose your words wisely.  As Ken Segall, a close collaborator with Steve Jobs for over a decade, suggests in his article “Meetings Are a Skill You Can Master, And Steve Jobs Taught Me How” published in Fast Company magazine, you do not have to turn into a coldhearted control freak, like Steve Jobs has been branded.  But, whether you are a CEO or team member, speaking honestly at the right time is a good way to earn respect and add value to the team meeting.


Where does that leave the creative thinker who listens well and needs time to process what is heard?  Business needs you because you are the one who thinks outside the box and may come up with the solution to the million dollar question.  But, if you think too long before you share what you are processing, you may be sent packing.  Therefore, speak up even when you do not have all the details figured out.   You may meet resistance and even sabotage by those who just want a quick solution, but persevere anyway!  Find a “navigator” who is an information source who is people savvy and understands the organization’s culture and politics to help guide you.  Also find a “champion” who has a selfish interest in your success in the organization who others listen to and follow.  That champion can become one of your strongest supporters and help convince the team to buy into your idea.  Then, let it become a team idea where the whole team invests their skills and expertise to build an innovative solution for the benefit of the organization.


However, there is more to the story.  In the book Insanely Simple:  The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success, Ken Segall writes about how Apple encourages big thinking but small everything else.  Steve Jobs started with small groups of smart, creative people and kept them small in order to nurture quality thinking.  This was the key to Apple’s amazing success.  Each person attending a meeting should be carefully selected and invited for a reason as an essential participant.


Why is a small group beneficial?  Jobs’ idea was that the smaller the group, the more focused and motivated the group will be and more productive.  You know from experience that the fastest way to lose focus, squander valuable time, and water down great ideas is to entrust them to a large group.  As a teacher, I have found this to be true.  When in a big class, a student can easily disengage and lose focus.  But when placed in a small group, each member of that small group is held more accountable to speak up, stay focused, engage in the discussion, add value by participating, and contribute to the overall success as a team.  Every smart team wants smart people on their team because it increases the quality of the work.


What is the perfect size small group?  Only you know your business and the nature of your projects, so only you can decide what is the perfect size group.


Every company wants to maximize productivity and cut down on unnecessary meetings.  Though meetings are a necessary and important way to make collaborative progress, too many unnecessary meetings and overpopulated meetings can rob even the most brilliant people of their creative energy.


Before each meeting, think strategically:             

  • What is the purpose of this meeting?  What do we want to accomplish?
  • Who has the smarts and the skills to move this team or organization forward?
  • Who will communicate the message or lessons learned to the rest after the meeting?

Invite meeting attendees based on the answers to the above questions.  If you are invited, speak up.  Share your insights in a timely manner.

“The art of communication is the language of leadership.” — James Humes


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