We have all participated in team meetings where very smart people deliver their competing brilliant insights about the “real problem” and what would solve it. “We just need to change the website to put the products front and center.” “We just need to segment our market.” “We just need to offer discounts.” “We just need to keep the engineers from talking to the customers.” “We just need to keep the sales people from promising things we can’t deliver.” Watch out for statements where the word “just” appears in the first few words of the sentence, it usually means there is no data yet to support the assertion. With all these opinions, how do you make the team meeting worth everyone’s time?
Step 1: Start the meeting by sharing the hard data on business performance. What’s the trend on customer satisfaction, or profit per employee, or progress against project milestones, or whatever metrics you use to measure your business performance and your team’s contribution to it. If you don’t have these metrics, get them. Useful performance metrics can protect your team from drowning in pooled ignorance.
Step 2: Make your primary objective of the meeting to articulate at least one testable hypothesis about how to improve your business performance. You will find that many of the “dueling opinions” can be easily translated into hypotheses. Once they are stated as hypotheses, instead of arguing ad nauseam about them, the discussion can shift to creating the best way to test them.
Step 3: Develop a short list of hypotheses you want to test from those that meet the following criteria:
- You have identified a simple and credible methodology for testing the hypothesis based on basic scientific method with representative samples, data gathering, and statistical analysis.
- At least one person has volunteered to take responsibility for running the test, reporting the results, and proposing three ways to take action based on the results, including proposed new hypotheses to test if needed.
Then choose one hypothesis from the short list that is most likely to produce results with high impact. For example, if the hypothesis represents a fundamental assumption underlying your entire business model, you might want to test that one first.
Step 4: At the next meeting, report the results of your tests and present the proposed actions. Choose which proposed actions to implement. Then capture what you have learned about efficient ways to test this particular type of hypothesis so you can get better at it.
There are some beneficial side-effects of this approach that are worth noting:
- People who are unwilling to see their hypotheses tested will stop clogging up the meeting with their opinions.
- People who demonstrate the skill, creativity, and patience needed to efficiently test hypotheses will get the increased recognition they deserve.
- Current metrics for measuring business performance will be replaced with more relevant and useful ones.
Design your team meetings around these four steps. Agree to call each other out when the meeting dialogue shifts to arguing with certainty about things that are uncertain. Just ask politely, “How could we test that?” Go out and run the test, look at the results, and improve your strategy. You will be amazed how focusing on what actually drives your business performance will improve the value of your team meetings and make good use of everyone’s time.