Consulting: Collaboration is over-rated

By | May 3, 2015

Okay, I said it.  I have seen too many organizations put together committees to drive “alignment”, when in actuality, they are trying to mollify a miscreant or hedge away the risk by legislating an answer.  Too often, it fails to achieve either of these goals.  The disgruntled just get more attention, and the middle-of-the-road answer is often the least safe choice anyways.  Bain talks about this a lot in the Founder’s Mentality video here.

Stop having so many lame executive meetings.  Not sure why people believe that holding so many executive meetings are useful. A few are, most aren’t.

Make the decision. Stop frittering around. Quit legislating an answer.  Quit pretending you are a member of the US congress.  Think about the problem.  Get some good advice. Stress test your conviction, make the decision.

Harvard Business Review talks a lot about decision architecture. . .setting up the framework, organizational, rules, culture, and incentives so the right people make the right decisions.  Don’t be an administrative mailman and bureaucrat.

HBR decision architecture biases

Putting people in the same room is not collaboration.  It is just simply putting people in the same room.  Don’t pay consultants to structure problems, instead, think about the problem.  Fundamentally, you need to ask:

  • What are we trying to achieve?
  • Who should be involved in the decision making?
  • What information / analysis / insight do we need to make a decision?
  • What is the risk / benefit of not making a decision?
  • What communication (after-thought) is needed after making a decision?

Here are 7 things that you can do about it.

1. Meeting minutes: I am a big believer of meeting minutes.  It summarizes everything that was discussed so far. It keeps track of past progress so you don’t waste time re-hashing the past.

2. Start meetings on time.  Don’t wait around for late people. If they are late, they should be made aware of that fact.  Don’t coddle the bad children.  Follow Drucker.

3. Send out the agenda.  Don’t go to meetings without agendas.  Inevitably, you spend the first 1/3 of the meeting, “storming” and “norming” before you start “performing.”

4. Do the pre-work.   Give people enough of the pros and cons prior to the meeting.  Give them the data, so they can form their opinions and be insightful.  Get the boring “information communication” part out of the way early.  Honor people’s time.

5. Let people argue it out (constructively).  In an interview with the head of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim said that he spends a lot of his time in meetings. . trying not to speak and prematurely tilt the conversation and debate in one direction.  Wow, restraint from the executive office.  Excellent.  Idea fight club at its best.

6. Remove people from the meeting.  How many people can you remove from the meeting and still get the work done.  “Keeping people in the loop” does not count.  That is something you can do by email.  Every day I try to “un-invite” someone from a meeting. . and usually, they are grateful.  Get rid of the waste and muda.

7. Charge people for the meeting time.  I heard from a client that their previous employer would charge each department for the opportunity cost of the meeting.  Put another way, every time you held a 2 hour meeting of 10 people who have a $200/hr imputed salary. . . it was 2 x 10 x $200 = $4,000 which hit your expense account. . .

Put a $ on the opportunity cost.  Nice.

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4 thoughts on “Consulting: Collaboration is over-rated

  1. Mia

    I like the post and it matches a lot I have experienced in consulting myself. But, now in a corporate enviroment, it can be really hard to follow through with a lot of them because more often than not the person showing up late and unprepared will be your boss…

    Reply
  2. Lew Sauder

    I like all 7 points about making meetings more productive – especially charging meeting time as an expense. That would make people think twice about the number of meetings, number of attendees, and the number of minutes employed to hold a meeting
    I do think collaboration has its place. Yes, executives should make decisions rather than hold meetings to get them made by committee. Collaboration is a great way to solve an unknown problem. Once options come out of collaboration, the executive should make a prompt decision.

    Reply
    1. consultantsmind Post author

      Well said. Open the lens and collaborate when it is an ambiguous problem. Close the lens when the options are in-front of you, it is time to decide. Thanks Lew.

      Reply

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