We all know the feeling: You have been sitting for an hour now in a meeting on a very important issue that is challenging your company. One of your C-level executives has called the meeting and invited some people from different departments to participate. It started with an analyst presenting a slide show full of data with histograms and pie charts. Within an hour the meeting diverted into four different directions, the usual suspect is lecturing his views to the audience, the smartest person in the room is too shy to talk and several others are on their laptops, maybe even coding.
Why is it we all know that experience? What is going wrong during these meetings? It seems they happen ever so often and nowadays they also happen on email and on Slack: long, convoluted threads, almost impossible to read and make sense of. The answer must lie within the methodology people employ within those meetings, especially the person running the meeting. A good meeting will most probably consist of the following steps in this order.
1. Clear definition of the decision to be made
Without a clear agenda or question laid out, there is no way you will get to the best answer. Asking the right question is critical for the discussion to go somewhere. Having a clear understanding of the question is probably the most difficult part of the discussion. It may well be the case a preliminary discussion should be held to improve the way you phrase your question. There is a huge difference between a discussion that is supposed to get an answer to the question “Why are we losing customers?” to a discussion that is meant to deal with the question “Why are we losing customers in the last quarter?” or “Why are we losing customers in Asia?”. They all seem very similar questions but each of them will require a different set of participants to start with, a different set of data sets to look at, and a whole different set of hypotheses to check.
2. Well defined set of possible answers/hypotheses
As soon as you have a clear definition of the answer, you should move on to create a rich set of competing answers. Locking into one possible answer will most probably lead you down the wrong path, and you won’t even be able to notice. The meeting could easily go on diving into the one answer suggested, but it will miss the opportunity to consider alternatives. If the question in front of you is hard enough (otherwise a multi-participants meeting will probably would have not been called in the first place) there is no way you can know at the outset which answer you should discuss. Having a diverse set of possible answers requires some originality on part of the participants, and they should better be of different backgrounds to reach that goal. Some people may think it’s easy to suggest plurality of answers, but the truth of the matter is that it is very hard to present more than five plausible answers.
3. Relevant Data and Expertise
When you have the alternatives in front of you, it’s about time to see what kind of data is available that may strengthen or weaken each of them. Now the meeting will be much more efficient and the participants will not have to go through endless slides of irrelevant data. Deciding between competing answers allows a much better focus on the data sets. Furthermore, it is much clearer now what kind of expertise is required to verify or falsify each of the hypotheses. The ones that has to do with Marketing and Sales will probably require some “Salesforce” data and the opinions from Marketing, Sales and Customer Success. The hypothesis that has to do with instability of the system will require attention from developers and architects.
4. Lines of argumentation
We humans understand things via the question “why?” We always look for reasons, so that we can be convinced of a certain answer being the most probable solution to a business question. When we have the right experts and most relevant data, we can start explaining why we think a certain answer is the right one. Building these communal mind maps of “why”s is how we get to a consensual answer. Each expert brings her expertise to explain a different element of the supporting argument. The accumulated collective knowledge is the best way to get to the proper explanation to the problem at hand.
5. Time to make a decision
The best outcome of the meeting (or set of meetings) is a well documented and clear decision that is translated into action. It is best to be able to define a clear KPI that will allow in the future to define a success, i.e. whether the chosen answer was the real one that led to the desired result.
Structuring oral and written discussions this way, will raise the chances of having a quicker, more focused and efficient discussions. Furthermore, it will raise the probability of getting to the best answer.
If only there were a product to guide your decision making process
There is. MENT is a SaaS tool designed to do just that: keep all the participants aligned around a well defined question, choosing the right participants and presenting data only in the context of alternative answers. On MENT you can run your discussions offline, and come into the meeting with a clear question and a mapping of the different opinions as to the right answer. The person running the meeting can then focus the attention on the most critical debate or data set, and come to a conclusion in a much more rapid pace. Perhaps allowing you to say bye bye to tiresome meetings.