Jedi Productivity 8 of 11: How the Death Star commander runs his Hyper-effective Meetings

This post is part of the Star Wars Jedi Productivity blog post series.  There will be 11 posts coming weekly every Tuesday for… yes… just counted it… the next 11 weeks.  These posts will guide your journey from a wilful, novice young pretender who is controlled by time…  into a magnificent Jedi who uses time as her own power.  The full set of posts are available from here.

How the Death Star commander runs his Hyper-effective Meetings

“I am so busy” everybody’s excuse

The average man spends 4.34 hours each week in meetings, the average woman 2.28.  75% say that these meetings were ineffective (NY Times research).

“You have failed me for the last time” Darth Vader to the imperial battlecruiser commander who allowed the rebels to escape.  Darth Vader proceeds to use the force to kill the commander in front of everyone, and then turns to the next in command and says “commander, what is your plan?”.

This level of consequence for failure certainly creates a heightened level of activity.  However,  in my own meetings I often don’t have the possibility of saying “Meeting attendee number 2, you have arrived late and unprepared for the last time!” and then use my light-saber on their head.  How do we run effective meetings without the power of the dark side of the force?

Here’s a Jedi Productivity rule for people who wish to create a meeting:  “What difference could you make that requires no one’s permission other than your own?”  Do that first.  Don’t call the meeting until you have done that.  (from Al Pittampalli)

4 Reasons to Meet

There are 4 types of business meetings –

  1. “hello, nice to meet you” meetings
  2. status updates (management reporting)
  3. idea generation, and
  4. decision making.

“hello, nice to meet you” meetings are about building relationship, so we’re not going to touch on them here in the Jedi Productivity series.

Status updates:  My good friend Verne Harnish is a massive proponent of the 10 minute daily huddle to replace all status update meetings.  He has a wonderful description of how to run your daily huddle here.  (There’s tons of free tools and resources for business execution from Verne here.)  Verne is a true Jedi Knight of business productivity!

I’ll leave the “all ideas are good ideas” style meetings for the creative gurus over at IDEO or Claro Partners.

This post focuses on the productive decision making meetings.

How to Run Decision Making Meetings

Decision making meetings are for exactly that: taking decisions that lead to productive action.  You want people coming to these meetings with analysis and conclusions, but ready to show their working process, the criteria they have used, the assumptions they believe are right.  You want to cut out early any people bringing raw data and zero analysis to your meetings.

Bring Me Solutions not Raw Data

There are 6 steps to take effective business decisions.  People should follow these 6 steps in their preparation to explain their thinking to the rest of the group.  Amazon require that the person writes out a 6 page written memo walking through the recommendation.  Jeff Bezos requires 30 minutes of silent reading at the beginning of the meetings before questions and discussion.  Read more about Amazon’s “No Powerpoint” rule.

Problem solving in business should be systematic.  Intuition has a role, but only within a systematic framework that ensures you are looking at the whole picture before jumping to an overly simplistic solution.  Here are 6 Steps for Business Problem Solving.  Work through these 6 steps before asking others for input.

Now that we have the 6 steps to turn raw data into thoughtful business decisions, lets look at a set of Jedi Productivity rules to hold people accountable and to not waste the meeting.

The Jedi Productivity Rules for Decision Making Meetings…

  • There Must be an Agenda – No plan, no meet; How? and What? are both important; Plan together, agree agenda;
  • Hard edges – start and end on time. The end time is as important as the start time; don’t accept drift – leave. Don’t waste people’s time, finish when done.
  • Provide work for meeting – Don’t let people just wander into the meeting and say “Hey, so what is this all about then?”  Give pre-reading.  Give questions to consider before people attend the meeting.
  • Chair the Meeting – Participate, get focus, maintain momentum and reach closure;
  • Bring Tools – Each person must have pencil, paper, agenda;  Meetings are REAL WORK.  Require preparation. Give people things to read or do before the meeting, and if they don’t, kick them out.
  • Parking Lot – Send off-topic ideas to the Parking lot.  Do not allow drift.  It is not just your time that you are abusing.
  • Demand Presence – Mobiles off?
  • Include Everyone – End asking “Did we miss anything?” to every participant
  • End with Actions –  Distribute minutes (who was there, key items discussed, actions agreed with completion date); The organizer of the meeting is required to send a short email summary, with action items, to every attendee within ten minutes of the end of the meeting.
  • Seth Godin’s Rule – If someone is more than two minutes later than the last person to the meeting, they have to pay a fine of €10 to the coffee fund.

Use the Force, Luke

There are times when I am running a meeting and people show up late and unprepared and then derail the meeting into their own agenda.  I would love to have the Darth Vader dark force power to shut them up and stop this happening, but this is the nature of human beings and the place we call “work”.  These rules work where there is a willingness to make them work.  Where there is a will, there is a way.

Where there is no will, we might just need Darth Vader to inspire action through his imposition of fearsome consequences.

Further Resources

Goodbye Ad-Hoc, Hello Systematic

In order to be a full Jedi time manager, the novice must learn to use proven tools such as:

  • Prioritising
  • Goal Setting
  • Deadlines
  • Delegation
  • Planning

That’s what this post series is all about.  You will become a master of the force and a power user of the tools of systematic, habitual action.

Are you a Jedi guided missile?  Are you systematic in how you set goals and make daily progress on what is important?  Or, are you more of an ad-hoc novice?

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Author: Conor Neill

Hi, I’m Conor Neill, an Entrepreneur and Teacher at IESE Business School. I speak about Moving People to Action.

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