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How to boost meeting productivity

Participation Plus & Weighted Voting

If you ever need/want to do all of the following, there are few better management tools than the participation plus and weighted voting strategy:

  • identify a wide range of ideas to deal with any given organizational challenge
  • take advantage of all of the brains in your organization, not just those of the most talkative and assertive people
  • rank all the ideas consensually and in order of priority
  • gain staff support via consensus
  • emerge from a meeting with a clear plan of action

The foregoing are not inconsequential matters, and they certainly exceed the outcomes of most business meetings. The key to success is in the meeting structure, a modified brainstorming format based on the five-step nominal group conference concept created in the 1960s by organizational researchers Andrew Van de Ven and Andre Delbeq from the University of Wisconsin.

Following is an example of the structure applied to a real-world situation that called for a highly productive 90-minute meeting needed to generate marketing ideas for a public organization. Each of the five steps is critically important, but perhaps the most significant is step #1—solo idea generation by all the people invited to the meeting. If great care is taken to inform people of their responsibilities (so they research and think conscientiously), you are likely to have a meeting with a multitude of good ideas that are worthy of consideration, where everyone feels involved, and a venue in which you can examine a lot of ideas quickly and efficiently.  

Purposes of Meeting

  • to generate practical, low-cost marketing ideas
  • to identify, to select, and to prioritize, via weighted voting, eight (8) ideas that are deemed by staff to be the “best,” i.e. the most doable and likely to succeed, and
  • to assign implementation responsibilities and completion dates to specific staff members.

The Nominal Group Conference & Multi-voting Processes

  1. Solo Generation (before the meeting): each participant develops two or three ideas that they believe to be worthy of pursuit (12 people = 24-36 ideas, all conceptualized beforehand.)
  2. Round Robin: Facilitator calls on each participant to provide and to briefly explain his/her idea (3 minutes maximum per explanation). Each idea is summarized and recorded on poster paper or green boards by individual idea generators—there is no discussion by other participants while this step is in progress. If each person has two ideas and if each idea takes 3 minutes to explain, the time needed is 72 minutes—if discussion is allowed, the whole process begins to wander, people become confused and too much time is spent. By not allowing comments, this also gives shy and/or quiet people an opportunity to communicate their ideas without fear of domination by more assertive/aggressive personalities—sometimes the quietest people have the best ideas, but they rarely get to express them.
  3. Clarification: Only now, with all ideas posted, can the group seek clarification from the people who proposed specific ideas. Concepts can be combined where logic so dictates, and participants engage in suggestions and modifications for idea improvement. The goal here is to obtain common understanding and “cleaned up” ideas.
  4. Voting and Ranking: Participants individually rank what they think are the best eight ideas (or whatever number of ideas you think are doable in terms of human and financial resources—for this example, we use the number 8). Each meeting participant is given sticky notes, or marker pens to write on poster paper and they assign a weighted vote value of “8” to the idea they like the most and “1” to the idea that ranks at the bottom of their list of eight votes. Once everyone has registered their eight votes with the value rating of 8 to 1, the numerical values are added for each idea and the top eight concepts are revealed. (It works well to let people stand up and move around when they are voting—gets them out of their chairs so they can stretch and refresh.)
  5. Next Steps: With the results captured, it’s time for action assignments to specific people or teams, for schedules and for follow-up.

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