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januari 15, 2013

using Activities to meet effectively

We meet a lot, especially the larger organizations often have a genuine meeting culture. There's nothing wrong with that in itself, but is that 'meeting time' actually used efficiently? Are we making efficient use of our time and schedule when we actually sit together in a room? And when we meet, are we making effective use of software resources that support meetings?

This article will get you an idea of how you could use Activities in IBM Connections to make meetings more efficient and effective. If you would like to discuss this more, I invite you to join me and Marion Vrielink to come join us in our IBM Connect 2013 session BOF106 Using Actvities to Manage Meetings on Tue, 29/Jan 06:30 PM - 07:30 PM at Macaw 2.

At a meeting people come together where interaction and communication are the main means to achieve common objectives. Interaction and communication are the key collaboration methods. We come together and discuss or debate vigorously. We come to decisions and action points (tasks, todo's) are set. The question now is, is this collaborating efficiently and effectively? The answer is usually 'no'. Many people I talk to  complain about too many and ineffective meetings. The next question is: what can we do to effectively meet?

Top annoyances
Have a look yourself on the internet for the top annoyances of meetings. Chances are that when you Google you get a list like this:
  • ringing telephones
  • email during meeting
  • arriving too late
  • unprepared / documentation not read / outdated versions of documents
  • meetings last longer than scheduled
  • no clear agenda
  • actions from earlier meeting not done
  • no decisions being made
  • tedious
  • not the right people

Some of these annoyances can be overcome with good agreements and good abidance. But there are other organizational and behavioral aspects that  can  be tackled otherwise. An example is that the meeting is lasting longer than scheduled. This of course may be a consequence of other annoyances, such as not reading the meeting documents or lengthy discussions.

What if we meet differently? What if we define a meeting not as the time and place where new topics are being brought to the agenda and where questions about the content are done. But what if we define a meeting as the moment of coming together to just make decisions and set actions. Or as a time where new output or innovation starts, which then is elaborated on at other times. This way meetings will be more than just a moment of getting together. Work is done prior to the meeting and afterwards, by each individual on their own schedule and only on that part important to them - thus the meeting itself can be more productive.

Supporting resources
When a meeting is used only for coming together to decide, prior to the meeting some collaboration has to be done. By using online and social resources, attendees can discuss and ask questions prior to the meeting take place. We could use forums for lenghty, and expected discussion. Or we could use commenting on files and blogs for simple questions and interaction. And meetings can also be supported with realtime resources, such as IBM Sametime Chat, Sametime Online Meeting, video conferencing, or IBM Connections Activities.

Email and Calendar: good for scheduling, not for collaboration
It is very common for organizations to mainly use Email and Calendar to support the process of meeting. A Calendar is a great tool for scheduling the meeting. But these tools are less suitable for discussing documents or assigning agenda items to certain people and setting tasks. Email and Calendar are not suitable for managing documents in the context or for making minutes.

Email and Calendar: information lock-down
A disadvantage of all the information in a Calendar invitation is that this information is only available for the attendees who have accepted. When someone initially declined the meeting, then this person does not have all the information. When a new team member or attendee is added, all the previous correspondence in email needs to be sent again. A disadvantage of sending all information by email is that the replies given by all attendees can lead to conversation chaos and when files are edited and routed through email there is a version chaos as well!

The issues with email collaboration are common: where can I find the latest version of the meeting minutes? Where can I find detailed information on the meeting? How can a new team member find all previous information and decisions? To solve these issues requires more structure. IBM Connections Activities can provide this structure.

Meeting with IBM Connections Activities
Activities in Connections, lets you organize tasks. And a meeting could be such an activity. Connections Activities even lets you create a template which everyone in the organization may use to easily create the appropriate structure to organize a meeting. The structure may of course slightly differ for individual situations, or your organization may have different needs as to how to structure the activity. But this will give you a general idea. Each organizer can adjust the template to their specific meeting objectives and requirements. You can edit content, delete and add.

Every meeting usually has an Agenda with several (sometimes recurring) topics. Usually the agenda is provided in a Word document. But the agenda can very well be an item in your activity. You may choose to have an activity with multiple meeting dates where these are defined as a section (i.e. section 15-02-2013), or create an activity for each seperate meeting. This depends on whether the meeting takes place regularly (every week, every month) with a fairly solid team,  or if it is a single complex meeting such as organizing a special three day event.

Share, communicate and discuss prior to the meeting
When the agenda is addes as items to the meeting section, attendees can collaborate prior to the meeting. To each topic you can add text, but also links and files. In addition, colleagues can be notified (e-mail message or message in the Connections Activity Stream) of new items or tasks. Action items are tasks. These allow you to assign a task to all members of the activity (a group task) or to a specific colleague. When the action items are assigned to a colleague with a specific date, this colleague can easily keep up with the todo's by using the To Do list view in IBM Connections, or simply add them as a calendar overlay in their Lotus Notes calendar.

Meeting time becomes a moment for decision making and setting out new tasks
During the meeting, any decisions made can be added to a desicions section. That way there will always be an overview of all decisions, no matter what meeting date it was made.
Any new tasks decided upon during the meeting, can be easily added to the Activity, where they will show up in the Action items view in the Activity, for all to see and keep track of.

When the Agenda is covered in items in the Activity, then making minutes is really pointless. Because during the meeting action items and decisions can be added, the Activity itself becomes the minutes.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a possible structure of a meeting template in Connections. In a blog of Alan Hamilton a slightly different approach is used. The idea remains the same. e-office work for adoption of IBM Connections regularly with the application of Activities for meetings to actually use in the flow of work to get. This scenario-based approach has proven very effective. Download these slides that once the design schematic and step-by-step display.

If you would like to see more and discuss the possibilities of using Activities to meet efficiently, come join me and Marion Vrielink at IBM Connect 2013 'BOF106 Using Actvities to Manage Meetings' Tuesday from 6.30-7.30 pm at Macaw 2.