We recently had a request from a group who wanted assistance to improve their relationship and resolve workplace issues. They thought starting with a better foundation would help them but they also said they met for one hour and quarterly. That sent a red flag to us because, as we blogged last week, real problem solving takes time and some work which in turn helps to build stronger relationships.
When we first start working with groups, we suggest to them they need to meet at least monthly and more than one hour. It sometimes is difficult convincing them that is beneficial but that’s a typical concern no matter what type of process it is. On the American Society for Quality(ASQ) website, they, too, stress the need to spend time when using the Six Sigma problem solving process. They write the number one complaint they hear about is the amount of time needed on problem solving. People don’t understand why it’s necessary and if it doesn’t provide quick results, people become even more impatient and think of it as an even bigger waste of time. We live in an instantaneous world driven by technology and other means that provide quick results. Real problem solving in a group may take longer but the results are so much better than one person making a decision or relying only on technology or data for the decision. In group problem solving, we may use technology and data to help us resolve work place issues but those aren’t our only tools.
Meeting quarterly doesn’t help when a group uses data to help solve problems. It’s great people want to use data, and technology has made it easier to get it, but it’s also important to have accurate data and relevant to what’s being worked on. If a group only meets quarterly, the data can be at least six months old if not older and that may not be current enough to help solve the problem.
In addition, meeting every quarter doesn’t provide enough momentum to keep the process going. As we mentioned above people become impatient and lose interest if they don’t see results. More than likely that will happen with meeting quarterly. It also doesn’t allow for relationship building because it becomes more difficult for people to get acquainted and feel comfortable speaking out or suggesting ideas. Quarterly meetings also don’t allow groups to have a sense of accomplishment so again people lose interest and don’t come to meetings.
On the other hand, some groups can be fine at resolving issues by meeting for one hour and at least monthly. It does mean groups have to adjust their expectations as to how much can be accomplished and the length of time it will take to resolve issues. If the group realizes that and doesn’t become impatient they will do fine. It also means the group will have to be very organized and methodical as to what they want to do at each meeting.
Having an agenda prepared in advance can help. We’ve suggested to groups they develop it at the end of the current meeting for the next meeting because everyone is present and information that’s needed for the next meeting is still fresh in everyone’s mind. Changes can still be made plus, because the group is only meeting an hour, the agenda will not be very long.
If members are willing to assume responsibility in doing tasks in between meetings, that can also help accomplish more in one-hour meetings and also help accomplish the overall issue. Those tasks could be working on obtaining more info or arranging for a speaker or possibly working in subcommittees to complete parts necessary in resolving the issue. Whatever it might be, people should be willing to step up and get it done. That provides a sense of ownership to group members when they assume specific tasks and it helps to build relationships.
Groups must watch that time is not wasted during their one hour meeting. It’s very easy to get side-tracked. Sometimes it can take people a few minutes to focus on their agenda or sometimes people don’t always arrive on time. Either one of these can cause the meeting to be delayed. In addition, when a group is wrapping up at the end of the meeting or working on the agenda for the next meeting, that will be time not spent on problem solving. Meetings can quickly dwindle to 45 minutes or less if a group isn’t careful. If meetings aren’t productive and time is wasted people will decide they have other things to do instead of attending another meeting that wastes time. Having an outside facilitator can help, too. That outside facilitator may be someone from the workplace but not from the group. If a facilitator is a group member, it’s hard for that person to stay out of the discussion. The purpose of a facilitator is to guide process and not get involved in discussion. Facilitators help to keep groups focused on their objectives and goals.
And as far as the importance of relationship building is concerned, people may ridicule it as a warm and fuzzy or the need in learning to work together is unnecessary but relationship building or interpersonal skills are important to resolving workplace issues. In fact, interpersonal skills is a skills gap item employers are saying employees lack. A couple other skills that employers say is lacking is being able to work in a team and problem solving. According to the Society of Human Resources (SHRM), a couple of the necessary skills employers want from workers today is the ability to work on a team and to have problem solving skills. Working with others to solve problems is not easy. Solving problems on their own is not easy. That’s why it sometimes is beneficial to get some assistance on working together. Training that provides practice working in groups and utilizing problem solving tools can make the difference between a team that’s successful and one that is not.
There’s also one other thing we see that really helps groups resolve workplace problems and learn to work together and that is, commitment. Without that commitment to be persistent and do hard work, the meetings and the problem resolution wouldn’t take place. It’s that commitment that helps people realize one-hour quarterly meetings may not be enough.