Beginnings make a huge difference.
Meetings offer a perfect example.
I was working with a VP who started off her 3-day, first quarter meeting with a 20 minute introduction. In that 20 minutes she crisply and energetically laid out:
- The purpose and expected outcome of the three days
- Three highlights and three lowlights from the previous year
- Why people were seated, by name card, at their six-person tables. (There were actually two reasons):
1. To include representatives of different functions at each table
2. To have a new manager at each table who had never been with the 60-person group before.
It really beats spending an hour having new people introduce themselves, tell their histories, and then know nothing about the rest of the group. As a result of meals, breaks, and small group sessions, everyone knew everyone else pretty darned well by 6 p.m.
The overall impact of the opening? High energy, enthusiasm, and clarity.
The learning: Give people lots of information in advance so they can participate quickly and effectively.
Each day included small group sessions focused on product lines, operations, and continuous improvement. By 8:45 all participants knew which small groups they would be a part of on each day (they changed); why they were in that group; and what the task would be for each. By the time the first breakout sessions started at 1 p.m., everyone was mentally prepared to participate.
This isn't revolutionary stuff. It's the kind of intentional, thoughtful planning often forgotten in the haste of organizing agendas and travel plans. Yet these process details are the ones that make or break a successful meeting.