Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Fire-Round

by: Paul C. Bevins, Account Executive

Okay, so how many of you have been a part of those regular staff meetings with ten or more people that seem to go on for hours? Often there is an agenda that is a good starting point for conversation, but beyond that things can get unwieldy.

In previous work and volunteer experience, I have found that this can be the case particularly when you have representatives that represent several diverse interests that all understandably want a moment to share their thoughts. Tangents, while they can serve a creative purpose, can be harmful if they move the conversation to unexpected places for unreasonable amounts of time.

This can happen even with a well-crafted agenda. Worse, the meeting attendees may become discouraged if they come to expect that the meeting will go on for too long, and perhaps not even give them a  meaningful moment to share their thoughts. If meetings routinely begin this way, how much can we hope to accomplish during the meeting with disinterested attendees?

The most-effective method to addressing this that I have been exposed to and utilized is the “Fire-Round”. The idea is quite simple, nothing ground-breaking in reality, and I have seen this at work over a number of years in different forms. But like many good ideas, the magic could be in the simplicity.

Here is how I've found it be the most effective:

First, the meeting organizer should solicit agenda items from all attendees ahead of time. After that she should publish a draft agenda for the meeting attendees' review, and then allow a day or at least a few hours for edits. Set time limits on discussion points, and assign a timekeeper ahead of time to help keep the meeting on schedule (allowing for some flexibility where needed, of course).

The meeting then begins with the Fire-Round. Go around the table and give each attendee a moment to talk about the top three or four things on their plate at the moment.

No one gets more than three minutes for this summary. If a particular item really needs to be hashed-out with a longer discussion, hopefully it was already on the meeting agenda as described above. If not, allow for an item or two to be added to the agenda, as needed.

Generally, this is very effective as it gives all attendees the opportunity to share their thoughts, express what is highest on their priority list at the given moment. It also gives the rest of the attendees a chance to hear what each person considers their highest priorities and offer feedback. Perhaps most significantly, this affords a level of accountability for the entire team.

Also, meetings achieve all of this while rarely going well beyond their scheduled time. A such, they tend to be very efficient and all attendees can come in with an expected outcome. In my experience, this approach has been most-effective for regular, internal team meetings, but can be utilized in any regularly-scheduled meeting.

What do you think? What does your company do to manage team meetings? What has worked well for you? What has not?