Make Meetings the Best Use of Your Time (Instead of a Waste of Your Time)!

We’ve all experienced those mind-numbing meetings –there are a lot of people in the room, and many issues to resolve – but at the end of the meeting, little has been accomplished – what a waste of time and energy! Much as been written about the mechanics of running effective meetings – having an agenda, getting the right people in the room, focusing on agreements and decisions. And while these mechanics are necessary, they are not sufficient. One of the biggest factors driving inefficient meetings is organizational politics. They exist in almost every organization – and can bring a well-organized meeting to its knees. Politics is the elephant in the middle of the room – we all know it is there, but little or nothing is done proactively to ensure it doesn’t derail the outcome(s) you need from your meeting.

If you want to increase the effectiveness of meetings – and reduce the number of meetings that are required to keep a project moving forward, consider applying the Attitude Influence Diagram to address the politics before they hijack your meeting. It is a critical element of meeting preparation, and equally essential as the agenda, meeting objectives, and key stakeholder attendance.

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The Attitude Influence Diagram is a graphical plotting of your project’s supporters and detractors, which helps you isolate and manage the key individuals who might impede your success. It provides a framework for you to plot individuals on the chart as bubbles, with their names and titles inside each bubble. One axis indicates how much they support your project (their attitude), and the other indicates their level of influence. Their influence is determined by a combination of their position in the organization and how much influence they command based on seniority, intellect, or knowledge. The size of the bubble indicates the difficulty in changing their position, where a larger bubble means that it will be more difficult for you to influence them. The Attitude Influence Diagram is a subjective assessment; however, it is a very powerful tool to quickly identify those who might block your project. Applied early in the process, this tool will provide you with the opportunity to proactively manage detractors to ensure their concerns are addressed. In many cases, applying this tool will turn your detractors into supporters.

To create an Attitude Influence Diagram, generate a list of those who might impact your project. Plot them against the two axes. It is fairly easy to indicate their influence since more often than not it is their position in the organization. But think also of those individuals at the lower levels of the organization who have a high amount of influence (for example, someone may be an individual contributor, they can be well respected in the organization and their opinion is very influential). Their attitude is a bit harder to determine, so start by identifying the most negative and most positive persons. Then as you populate the chart, you can gauge comparisons against the two extremes. This is not a process that should include a large number of people from the project team. But you are best off if you do this with at least two people, so you can get a more balanced view of the situation. By looking at the quadrant of high influence and negative attitude, you can focus your efforts and work on those individuals who are most likely to threaten your success. Many times, detractors have good reasons for their lack of support, but their concerns have not been appropriately acknowledged or addressed. After isolating the detractors, you need to create a strategy to approach them and work through their concerns. This may include sending them an email asking for their input and requesting help, talking with them informally, or arranging a one-on-one meeting with them and another team member or with someone outside the team who is very influential to them.

Frankly, I would like to say that your organization has no politics, but it does, and not everyone is aligned with your objectives. The result is that people stifle progress, and the brunt of this is felt in day-to-day meetings. It makes the meetings inefficient, and it creates the need to have even more of them – a vicious cycle that we are all too familiar with. The impact of this cycle on organizations is significant, as it leads to lack of forward movement, low morale, and a lack of trust. I understand that you have limited time to work on politics. This graphical technique pinpoints people and their position so that you can use your time wisely. Provided you have a menu of solutions, you can start to act, drawing from proven change management techniques to deal with the influential, but negative individuals. There is a big gap between knowing who your detractors are and eliminating their negative influence. Even more important than this graphical technique are the skills to influence outcomes. If your goal is to ensure the time you’re investing in meetings it the best use of people’s time, as opposed to a waste of time, add the Attitude Influence Diagram to your toolkit for meeting preparation. It will help you get the most out of your meetings!