“Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

-Dr. Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park

Leading Problem Solving Meetings

Back when I was training to instruct the Dale Carnegie Course,  I attended the graduation of our Leadership Training for Managers program. During that program, I picked up one of the booklets on the table entitled “Effective Problem Solving Meetings.”

Feeling a bit nostalgic, I reminisced about the days of the “old” Dale Carnegie Course which was 12 weeks long. In that version, we reviewed tactics and strategies for conducting effective problem solving meetings.

Instructors now teach these concepts in the Leadership Training for Managers program. The Dale Carnegie Course now covers additional tactics concerning interpersonal skills and communication strategies. However, I know a few Dale Carnegie Course instructors will still try to sneak in these meeting hacks when they are conducting small group sessions. But they need to have the time and the participant’s interest to change the course and incorporate these topics..

When you’re leading a meeting, and you want unfettered input from all sides, here are basic guidelines to conduct your problem solving meetings:

  • Open the meeting with a brief statement of the problem.
  • Ask for causes of the problem.
  • Ask for possible solutions to the problem and evidence to support each solution.
  • Make frequent summaries. When you’ve discussed sufficient solutions, select the best possible solution.
  • If desirable, appoint an individual, team, or committee to convert decisions into action.
  • Express your own personal ideas only after all other have expressed theirs.
  • Encourage an open environment by minimizing parliamentary procedure.

What about Parliamentary Procedure

I find this last tactic interesting. I spent several years in the Toastmasters organization and held several governing functions for several clubs and territories. I know that parliamentary procedures are written in the bylaws of Toastmasters and are regularly touted as a club standard.

Parliamentary procedures, however, are intense. Of all the clubs I’ve been involved in, I can think of only one that adhered to parliamentary procedure rigorously. That club is TGIF Management in Sunnyvale, California. I even kept my copy of Robert’s Rules of Order, just in case I might stop by!

However, in the other clubs I attended, the members mixed in techniques they used in their workplace meetings, which were some variation of the above tactics.

Oh, before I forget, there are two more points:

  • Keep the meeting moving and on track (agendas are good for this).
  • Encourage participation from everyone, but avoid going around the table to ask each person’s views directly.

Parliamentary procedures are great if you are a member of Congress, conducting a meeting with a large governing body, or are a member of Toastmasters. However, most of us working in a business environment need to execute meetings quickly. We need to have a set of actions happen after a meeting ends and we need to show results within a certain time. Moreover, we need to accomplish all of this while recognizing that we are dealing with people.

The next time you are in a Dale Carnegie Class, ask them about the guidelines for leading problem solving meetings. I guarantee you will come away with insights to make your next business meeting productive, faster, and effective.