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Use the "4 P's" to hold more productive meetings

You can hear groaning in offices across the country. “The boss wants to have another meeting this week.” Their frustration might be because the meetings aren't productive, as the boss doesn’t have any expectations set before the meeting begins.

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In many business meetings where professionals meet to discuss strategy, nothing gets done. How, then, can you create an atmosphere which ensures things do get done? 

To address this issue, leadership expert John Sutherland created the "4 P's"  - Person, Purpose, Process and Product - to explain how you can save 25% of meeting time and create an atmosphere that will ensure you have productive meetings. Here’s how to set the stage for a meeting your colleagues will practically buy tickets for.

4 ps by John Sutherland

Image Source: The 4 P's: Saving 25% of Meeting Time by John Sutherland 

1. Person - who is running the meeting and who needs to be involved?

In every meeting it's important to know who should take charge. Without a defined leader to keep the discussion on track, the meeting is bound to fail. That person should decide who needs to contribute to the meeting, in order to avoid team members sitting through meetings that don't concern them. Those who have expertise and a stake in the meeting topics should be the key players here. It's perfectly acceptable for team members to leave the meeting and return for the next agenda item they're involved in. Get this right and your meeting will start off on the right foot.

2. Purpose - what are the clearly defined reasons for working on the issue?

Prior to your traditional weekly meeting, quickly conduct a strategic analysis of what your team needs to be working on as a top priority. Trash the basic operational matters unless they're urgent and instead focus on the future needs of the business. When your business has a challenge that needs a team solution, decide not only who needs to come to the meeting but also what you need to accomplish. Create an agenda that will help you and your team achieve your goals. You’ll find you have more enthusiastic participants who are eager to suggest creative solutions to the challenges your business faces.

3. Process - what team processes will we use?

If you just run through a standard meeting format every time, you may not reach your goals. Depending on the purpose of your meeting, the process you use to achieve this should differ. Simply using a mix of operational reporting and project updates may be useful but will not help your business achieve its forward-looking goals.

John Sutherland developed four models you can use to make sure you're approaching your meeting in the best way, in order to ensure you're making the most of your meeting time.

  • the Strategic-Operational model is useful for meetings designed to "set or refine direction" or "report on progress or deviations" from the plan.
  • the Divergent-Convergent model is best when you need to "open up debate" or "bring a wide range of views to a single point of agreement".
  • the Informational-Transformational model will help you "gather and share information" or "transform and improve the organisation".
  • the Linear-Iterative model distinguishes between "project management with clear stage gates" (linear) versus "getting nearer [the] goal through each new phase of activity" (iterative).

This article explains the four different Purpose to Process continuums in more detail.

4. Product - what do we expect to achieve?

You can’t arrive at a destination if you don't have one in mind to head towards in the first place. Know what you want to produce at this meeting. Is it a more efficient workflow? Is it a more effective marketing plan? When you know the goal, you’ll have a better chance of achieving it. State the goal at the outset - you’ll find that people will focus on getting to that goal more quickly when they know what they’re trying to accomplish.

When planning meetings, don't think only about your company’s products, services, inside workings or office politics. Instead, take a cue from modern marketing techniques that teach businesses to put the end consumer of their services or goods at the forefront of all that they do - including meetings.

When you keep these four principles in front of you every time you plan a meeting, you will find that each meeting will go more smoothly (and probably finish sooner) than ever before. No more yawns. No more groans. You’ll have a workforce who looks forward to every meeting. More importantly, you’ll have a workforce that gets things done.

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Last updated on March 21, 2018 08:07

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