This week we worked with two labor-management committees. With one group, we facilitated their meeting. The other committee we provided 2-days of committee effectiveness training with a third day to establish committee ground rules, mission statement, boundaries on what they can and cannot work on, and a list of problems and projects they want to focus on.
Both of these groups have set aside regular two hour meetings to work on labor-management issues. Some of this includes simply providing updates but both groups have also said they want to work proactively on problems that impact both sides within the workplace.
We have talked many times on these blogs about the necessity of meeting more often for actual problem solving. Both groups are willing to do it and probably once they see the benefit of it will continue. Both of these groups have great potential to do some major good for their workplaces. One is possibly looking at strategic planning. This, of course, will take regular meetings and time to implement.
Labor-management committees that normally meet for two hours do so because their meetings are not as productive as they would like. Everybody we talk to before we do training usually says they would like to do problem solving but when we tell them it will take monthly meetings and possibly more than two hours, they balk. They balk because they are in a paradigm of unproductive meetings.
So how can we accommodate the need to meet two hours and actually problem solve? When we facilitate meetings, we make them productive by using the interest-based process which is designed to slow problem solving but yields the results most groups want. It helps groups explore problems based on their mutual interests. When we do brainstorming, we use a method that is more structured to help save time so groups don’t get off task.
The interest-based process is started with brainstorming a list of issues within a particular problem. We ask the group to go back and talk with their constituents about other problems in addition to the ones they identified. The next step is to brainstorm each side’s interests and we’ll start on brainstorming options or possible solutions but again we’ll ask everyone to go back to constituents and get their ideas before we go on to complete the process with standards and a final decision.
By asking them to go back and talk with constituents it helps to solve another problem – communicating with constituents. People hear what the committee is working on, they’re asked for their opinion which helps to establish rapport and allow more people to have input into the decision.
All of this can be done within a two hour meeting – even an hour and a half – and the meeting becomes more productive. The entire problem may not be solved within one meeting but the other outcomes that occur such as communicating with constituents can provide rewards as a group continues to work on problems.
The committees we worked with this week both complained about the length of time the interest-based process could take but it only took 20 to 25 minutes for the one group to identify a long list of problems and projects. That’s really not very long. Identifying interests will not take any longer than that and neither will the initial brainstorming of solutions but the entire process will give a much better result than one person making a decision or deciding on a single solution. Some problems won’t take that long to resolve and other problems may not need the interest-based process. The important thing to remember, though, is to think how much time is wasted when a wrong decision was made or it didn’t address the problem.
Something else the interest-based process provides, in addition to productive meetings, is the development of relationships. The more groups work together on problems, especially with the interest-based process, their relationship improves and they are able to work on more difficult problems. Mutual trust is apparent and the overall morale of the work environment improves.
Now, with multiple results like that doesn’t it make sense to use a more structured problem solving process? Think about what issues can be addressed – customers’ needs, competitive needs, productivity and retaining business and jobs. Apparently, meeting time can be productive and in a two-hour time frame.