Type "running successful meetings" into a search engine. You'll get the usual list of good practices. But putting data at the center of the meeting doesn't seem to get a mention.
Let’s face it, team meetings can be the low-point of the business day. They are often seen as time-wasting opportunities for certain people to over-analyse some recent failure, lay blame on others, or justify their own actions (or inactions).
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Meetings can, and should be an efficient tool for sharing information, ideas and generating action. To achieve this, start running data-driven meetings. If you do, it could turn out to be one of the most productive changes you make to your business this year.
This post is not another article about good meeting etiquette. While etiquette may be important, what we’re discussing here is something more fundamental: specific tips to ensure every team meeting within your organisation becomes more productive through a clear and consistent focus on the life-blood of any business. Its data.
How a data focus boosts productivity
What do we mean when we talk about enabling more productive meetings? Data-driven meetings can provide a boost to productivity in several ways:
Data-driven meetings are much are shorter. Summarised data can cut through a lot of talking.
When quality and clearly presented data is at the centre of the discussion there is less dispute about ‘the numbers’ and more opportunity for healthy debate about ways to improve.
That debate opens the way for new ideas, often at little or no cost.
You prepare your team for a better way of working by bringing facts and basic data analysis into everything you do.
People are empowered to act and are given the space to do so.
Your credentials as an effective manager or leader are enhanced.
These benefits can be gained regardless of the purpose of the meeting. They apply to operational, continuous improvement and management meetings. All can be dramatically improved through a data focus.
Meeting styles to avoid
If you’re not seeing such benefits from your meetings, let’s consider two other styles of meeting and the challenges they generate.
One style could perhaps best be described as ‘unstructured’ or ‘loose’.
This style involves little preparation by the participants. The lack of a focus around data means the meeting is prone to drift along, with random discussions and pet topics dominating.
In these unstructured meetings, if there is discussion around data, it's unlikely to be clearly presented. As a result, participants won’t engage with the information, even if it appears crystal clear to the person presenting it.
The other style of meeting could be called ‘over-organised’. Certain attendees arrive having spent way too long analysing the information they have, so they can use it to set up their arguments from the start.
This ‘over-preparedness’ creates a hostile and adversarial meeting environment, much like a court. It puts other attendees on the defensive and drains the room of any problem-solving energy.
Contrast with the data-driven meeting where the numbers and formats are clear to everyone and the discussion focuses on ideas and action!
Making your meetings work
An effective data-driven meeting will have the following flow:
Where are we now (specific with data)?
Where would we like to be (specific with data)?
What are ideas (strategies and tactics) to get there?
What’s the plan; who’s doing what?
For an effective data-driven meeting, preparation (but not over-preparation) is required:
Make sure your data collection system is up and running – and trusted.
If data accuracy could be an issue, pre-empt that concern: “Team, before we begin, is everyone happy that the data we have in front of us is correct?”
Ensure the data being presented matches the flow of the meeting. If you are a DataNow customer using custom reports, get in touch. We'll gladly rearrange it for you to match your meeting. As long as your meeting isn't too complicated we can do this for your under Customer Support time (i.e. no charge!).
Power tips to finish
Use open but ‘data-bound’ questions, for example: “Team, what would it take to get us from 67% to 75% within the next 3 months?”
Defer unrelated topics. “Hey, I can see that’s an issue. Is it okay if we come back to it at the end of the meeting?”
Be ready to use keen people in your team. “Okay, we’ve got some issue here, can someone take this away and create a small plan for next time?” Don’t limit yourself to people in roles and departments. And be sure to follow them up and praise them for their efforts.
By putting these ideas into practice you’ll be well on your way to achieving many of the six productivity gains we outlined above.
Why not give it a try? You could find you turn those meeting you dread into one of the most productive and motivational parts of your week.