by Russell T. Westcott:
You’ve probably heard these vocalizations in your organization:
- I hate meetings.
- We never seem to accomplish anything in our meetings.
- Has anyone figured out how much time and money we waste in our meetings?
- Management is always pushing us to be more efficient—cut down the frequency, size, and time taken in meetings.
Some of the reasons why an organization might purposely avoid considering the cost-effectiveness of meetings are:
- Never thought about it.
- Don’t know how best to compute cost-effectiveness.
- No one is requiring it or would pay attention to it.
- Whose responsibility would it fall under?
- We’ve got to hold the meetings anyway, so what difference would it make?
- Is this just a ploy to abolish meetings?
- Haven’t we got bigger issues to be concerned about than meeting effectiveness?
- What’s in it for me or my work unit?
- What has this got to do with quality and the quality management system (QMS)?
- Seems like another silly initiative, like many others have been.
Auditing internal meetings: Combining types
There can be a plethora of types of meetings (some are listed in table 1). Careful thought should precede the meeting if the intent is to combine types of meetings. Cost, time, and the selection of attendees are the larger issue. Availability of the right people is critical.
One organization gathers those who directly report to the director of the function for a full staff meeting on Friday from 8–9 a.m. The modus operandi is a “round robin” where every attendee has the opportunity to provide a brief summary of key projects or processes within his or her responsibilities, with handouts of brief charts or other documentation. Should the need for solving a problem or further investigation or research arise, such occurrences are noted as action items. Time and place for the subsequent meeting is arranged after the information sharing meeting ends. Often, if the right people are attending the earlier meeting, a select few will remain to continue as a small problem-solving group.
Auditing internal meetings: The implication of refreshments
Another planning issue is whether to make refreshments available in the meeting. Coffee only was offered at the Friday staff meeting mentioned. A basic rule of thumb is to consider the time taken and time of day in arranging for and consuming refreshments. Socializing can interfere with the serious intent of the meeting. An all-day training or sales meeting might reasonably provide refreshments, even a short lunch. Conversely, an ongoing scheduled plant floor meeting, with coffee and pastries, establishes an attendee’s expectation and can consume more time and cost than warranted.
Occasional refreshments served as a celebration or performance reward is reasonable. Otherwise, this could be reinforcing undesirable behavior.
Auditing internal meetings: Not combining types
Reasons for not combining types of meetings include:
- Some of meeting content may not be applicable to everyone you’ve invited.
- Attendees can begin to ask to themselves, “Why am I here?”
- Economic factors should not override the purpose for the meeting.
- Content and purpose will be more readily absorbed by having the right people present
- Unforeseen difficulties can arise when a meeting is mandated by management, customers, or a regulatory requirement. This can happen with training meetings, when the cause of a problem is deemed “lack of training” and training is mandated for everyone in a unit. Actual training may not be the solution and training those who don’t need it is costly, time consuming, and demoralizing to those affected.
Table 1: Auditing internal meetings: Examples of typical types of meetings
|Scheduled staff meeting, type A||Review and critique status of projects, action plans|
|Scheduled staff meeting, type B||Dealing with organizational issues, discuss plans|
|Scheduled work unit meeting||Brief meeting to assess status of work, identify needs|
|Emergency meeting, as needed||Discuss immediate needs and remediation action|
|Sales meeting, as needed||Introduce new plans/products; solidify sales teams|
|Project/action plan focus, as needed||Planning and review of work required|
|Problem-solving, as needed||Solve a problem with mix of expertise|
|Skills training, as needed||Develop a competency|
|Announcement meeting, as needed||Inform employees of something new or different|
|Social event, as needed||Make or renew co-worker acquaintance|
|Educational program, as needed||Provide topical education to enhance knowledge|
|Other or combination, as needed||When cost, time, and results can be optimized|
Auditing internal meetings: Issues to address
Typical problems of meetings:
- No goals, objectives, or timed agenda sent in advance
- Attendees not clear as to whether they absolutely must attend
- Late arrivals
- Early departures
- No discussion of ground rules
- Straying from the meeting’s purpose
- Attendees not prepared
- Limited attendee participation at meeting
- Apparent irrelevance of much subject matter discussed
- Too long
- Many interruptions tolerated
- Inconclusive decisions
- Perception of attendees as to why the meeting was needed differs from leader’s perception
- No established procedure exists for handling actions items. Actions are not adequately identified and assigned (to whom, date due, content expected)
- Meeting leader lacks competency in leading and managing meeting
- Meeting poorly planned or perceived as unnecessary
- Meeting minutes not taken and delivered to attendees post meeting
- Appropriate facility and equipment not available or poorly chosen
Auditing internal meetings: Questions to consider for your auditing checklist
- Is the organization concerned about the effectiveness of internal meetings?
- Is internal meeting effectiveness integrated with quality concerns?
- What initiatives have been taken to improve effectiveness? What effect has these actions produced?
- Is continual improvement built into the ongoing initiatives?
- On what basis is the effectiveness of internal meetings evaluated? Cost, time taken, value obtained, mix of metrics? Are present evaluation metrics aiding continual improvement?
- Are the organization’s people adequately informed of the importance of improving internal meetings and the value potential of doing so? Is appropriate training for potential meeting leaders available and used?
- Are the improvement initiatives designed to answer the question for all participants, “What’s in it for me?”
- Does each person with a responsibility to conduct internal meetings have a performance (quality) objective that will be covered in a performance evaluation?
- Does everyone attending an internal meeting receive an advance invitation or mandate covering why they are to attend, date-time-place, and what they are expected to contribute and bring to the meeting?
- Do all attendees and designated others receive documented minutes of the meeting covering major issues discussed, actions closed, actions assigned for later response, critical decisions made, and an effectiveness evaluation of the meeting?
- Has a basic practice been established that very limited meetings (e.g., 10 minutes or less) be conducted as a “stand up” meeting to facilitate keeping the meeting short? (Minutes will be brief and cover only the primary issues discussed.)
- Have standardized staff meetings been limited to brief summaries of progress status and critical issues, with problem-solving relegated to other meetings with more limited attendance? Are attendees permitted to send a delegate if they are legitimately unavailable? Are attendees encouraged to focus on providing status commentary, and to “pass” when they have nothing to offer?
- Has a basic practice been established that no meeting should exceed one-hour, except for problem-solving meetings that could require more time?
- Except for very brief meetings, has scheduling and arranging of meetings been delegated to administrative personnel with an aim to be more efficient and save executive costs and time? [see sidebar]
- If attendees would have to travel to a meeting, has thought been given to e-meetings using the most cost-effective and appropriate medium currently available?
- When a face-to-face meeting is considered necessary, is consideration given as to what other medium could more effectively accomplish the same purpose?
- Does a contemplated meeting topic clearly fit the organizations strategy?
Auditing internal meetings: Conclusion
Meetings in many organizations consume an inordinate amount of time and costs, and quite often fail to produce expected results. To ignore this fact as a QMS auditor is neglectful. ISO 9001 certificate holders sometimes seek ways to “weasel out” of the required management review meeting, or even tack it onto a meeting about finances. This isn’t an acceptable practice and definitely fails to focus on continual improvement of the QMS. Without an established and fully functional process for conducting an effective and frequent management review, the investment an organization has made may be jeopardized. With a QMS that fails to identify what is wrong or what can be improved, the organization is wasting money as well as building evidence that the certificate should be suspended or revoked.
The QMS is the foundation upon which the organization can effectively produce customer acknowledged quality, continue to compete, and sustain profitability. Auditors should consider auditing internal meetings and examining their management and effectiveness throughout the organization.
Auditing internal meetings: Sidebar
Valuable lessons were learned when it was realized that a more efficient meeting process appeared to work well in a large aerospace organization. When a meeting was absolutely needed to meet customers’ requirements or plan the steps to solving a multi-faceted problem that would involve multiple functions and expertise, a meeting could be justified and the following process was used:
- The primary project leader or executive responsible for the outcome of the meeting drafted a short explanation of the rationale for a meeting stating purpose, rationale, problem to be solved, decisions to be made, specific persons needed, what each person needed to bring and contribute (documents, reference material, questions), the expected outputs and outcomes from the meeting, and the anticipated time and place of the meeting.
- An administrative assistant assigned the task of setting up the meeting negotiated with all the assistants supporting the persons involved in the meeting to get schedules adjusted so that all or most of the designated parties could attend. (This more cost-effective approach saved having persons on a higher pay-scale and with greater responsibility make the arrangements.)
- When the meeting time, place, and attendees were decided, the meeting leader issued an email with a timed agenda outlining the sequence of planned activities, the role of each attendee, and a final statement of the outputs to be generated and outcomes to be achieved. The firm start and end times for the meeting (usually no more than one hour) were emphasized. Also, a five-minute evaluation of the effectiveness and accomplishments of the meeting was completed before the meeting adjourned.
- The formal minutes of the completed meeting were emailed to all participants showing the actions taken, new actions assigned, decision made or to be made, and a summary of the meeting evaluation. This formalized approach was adopted partially as a result of customer requirements and to preclude former inefficiencies and errors. For highly critical meetings, a non-meeting participant was assigned to record and issue minutes to ensure no meeting attendee had to focus on both recording minutes and contributing to meeting content and discussion. Some client contracts required very detailed minutes.
- After several months in operation, a benefits-to-cost performance metric was added to the existing quality-related post-meeting evaluation. Efficiency and effectiveness were substantially improved.
- In re-engineering the meeting process, the right people were asked to contribute the right thing at the right time and participate in its continual improvement. The meeting process was instituted and refined during the development of the ISO 9001 certification initiative. Interestingly, this internal procedure was also found to favorably influence external ISO 9000 QMS auditors when they conducted their periodic certification compliance audits. (See figure 1 for an example of evaluation used after a management review meeting.)
Figure 1: Auditing internal meetings: Example of evaluation of an ISO 9001 management review meeting
CRITIQUE—MANAGEMENT REVIEW MEETING
|Agenda||• Was a meeting agenda prepared and sent to each invitee in advance of the meeting?|
|Attendees||• Did attendees/positions represented conform with QSP201.1?|
|Quality policy||• Is the quality policy suitable as published?|
• Has the content of the quality policy been deployed to all employees? How?
|Quality objectives||• Was/were the status/results of the quality objectives reported and discussed? Any modifications?|
|Customer satisfaction||• Was the analysis of customer returns and other complaints reported and discussed?|
|Suppliers||• Was the analysis of supplier performance and status reported and discussed? Improvements?|
|Training||• Was the status of training program plans and programs discussed? Any significant changes?|
|Auditing||• Was the summary status of internal audits reported and discussed?|
• Were all significant findings and actions resulting from internal audits reported and discussed?
• Was adequacy of trained auditors discussed?
• Was the schedule for registrar’s audits reviewed?
|CAPA* reports||• Was the summary status of open and closed CAPA reports discussed, including highlights of any significant problems and actions? Are new CAPA reports required, based on this meeting?|
|Quality system documents||• Was the effectiveness and viability of the quality system manual and quality system procedures discussed?|
|Document control||• Was effectiveness of document control process discussed?|
|Resources||• Was the adequacy of resource allocations to maintain the quality system discussed?|
|Quality system||• Was overall effectiveness of the QMS discussed?|
• Were any significant quality systems improvement plans initiated?
• Were any improvements reported? Were these improvements quantified ($, #, %)?
|Next meeting||• What date is next management review meeting?|
|Reporting||• Were all reports made in writing as well as orally?|
|Critique||• Was a critique of the meeting done by all attendees before leaving the meeting?|
|Minutes||• Were minutes taken (for distribution to all positions represented by QSP201.1)?|
|Continuous improvement||• What actions should be taken to improve the next management review meeting?|
Evaluation: My rating of meeting (“5” – high, “1” – low) = [ ]
Attendee: Name: Title:
Please submit this completed form to presiding management representative before leaving.
About the author
Russell T. Westcott is an ASQ Fellow, Certified Quality Auditor and Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence. He is editor of ASQ’s Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence Handbook, Fourth Edition and the editor of the Certified Quality Improvement Associate Handbook, Third Edition. He authored Simplified Project Management for the Quality Professional (ASQ Quality Press, 2005) and Stepping Up To ISO 9004:2000 (Paton Press, 2003). He is active in ASQ’s Quality Management Division and the Thames Valley (CT) section management.
Westcott instructs the ASQ Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence exam preparation course nationwide. He writes for Quality Progress, The Quality Management Forum, The Auditor and other publications. He is president of R.T. Westcott & Associates, founded in 1979, based in Old Saybrook, Connecticut.
Tags: auditing internal meetings, internal organizational meetings.