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Thursday, January 19, 2012

DDD: Download, Discuss and Decide

You may have heard of double D, but triple D?

Having led my fair share of meetings over the years, I've noticed that there are some better practices than others.  I'm not a big fan of pre-announced agendas by rather have found that 'live' agendas work better.

Much of my thinking in this area has been heavily influenced by Bernie Dana (Ind Psy, Phd) and Patrick Lencioni's "Death by Meeting."

At the beginning of the meeting (Weekly Crime Drama, in Lencioni terms), I write on the whiteboard Download in the upper left, Discuss at the middle top and Decide in the upper right hand corner.  Then all meeting participant's write up what they want to Download, Discuss or Decide.  This is usually done by :05 past the hour.

As the meeting organizer, I can then quickly allocate the time across the topics presented.  I usually start off with the Download section.  This is just headlines, telling the group some facts so that we are all operating with the same set of facts for further discussions or decisions.  During the Download section, clarifying questions are ok, but substantive questions create a new item in the Discussion section. An example of a Download may be "We are switching our healthcare plan from Kaiser to TriNet" and the clarifying question may be "Is that effect the first of this month or next?" If a team member asks, "Have you considered X?" that would likely create a new item under Discussion.  This section should be done by :15 past the hour.

Next, I like to go to Decisions that need to be made at this meeting by this group.  If the decisions are too big to be handled during a weekly meeting, then the champion of the decision needs to set a 'movie meeting' to focus on just that decision.  For example, "Should we change our pricing metric" is too big of a topic for a weekly meeting, but might be covered well in a 2-3 hour meeting (with great prep.)  If the idea is too big for the movie meeting (for example, annual planning) then scheduling a 'mini-series meeting' (a full day or multi-day offsite) is the right type of meeting to address a topic that large and complex.   But in most weekly meeting, there are zero or a few relatively quick decisions to be made.  For example, approving a new marketing channel vendor and the associated spend. (Should we spend X to test advertising on Linkedin?  Should I start a hiring process for a new kind of employee?)  Decisions can usually be resolved by :25 past the hour.

This leaves :30 minutes for discussion.  The key is that whoever initiates the discussion has the authority to end it.  For example, the CFO may ask, "I'd like your perspectives whether we should grant options to all employees and if so how many under what terms?"  When the CFO has had enough input, he or she simply says "Thanks, I got what I need."  This is important to prevent the hijacking of a functional decision by the broader team.  As the leader of the team, you may also call the end of a discussion. I try to at least spend a few minutes on each discussion item to make sure I understand the topic, but given about 30 minutes of availability, it's best to focus on 1-2 discussions per week.

Deciding whether something is a functional or team decision ("Who makes which Decisions") is one of the best questions in business, but that is a topic for another day.

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