Construction Leadership Insights

Tired of Leading Meetings That Are a Waste Time and Energy?


3 Ways You Can Prepare for An Effective Problem-Solving Meeting

I relax by baking chocolate chip cookies
A couple of weeks ago, I got home after a pressure packed day, and decided to bake. The recipe called for baking soda, and since I didn’t have any in the house, I substituted baking powder. The first batch came out, and after they cooled, I gave one to each of my kids (with a glass of milk) and waited for their squeals of pleasure.  Imagine my disappointment when their faces puckered up and they started gagging.

The problem is, when you substitute baking soda for baking powder you have to add 2 or 3 times as much to get the same leavening effect. Depending on the recipe this can cause a bitter taste. I was unaware of this. My whole house was disappointed that my cookies fell below my usual standard because of my lack of preparation.

Prior preparation is not only essential to excellent baking, it’s also critical to running effective problem-solving meetings. In this short article we’ll take at three ways you can get ready:

  1. Accurately Identify Problems
  2. Pick the Team
  3. Make the Rules

Construction is interesting because it’s both a product and a service business.
All contractors build or install a physical product of some kind. The construction process, in the bidding, planning, and building stages is typically complex, and each step along the way requires communication, conflict resolution, and hand-holding, all service-based activities.

Challenges happen every day, and sometimes you need a meeting to figure out how to resolve issues. That’s why it’s so important that are an expert at the first part of preparation: Accurately Identify Problems

Problems occur in three areas

To complete a project, you produce a finished product. You have unique processes that guide every aspect of how you operate. And you have people who drive the success of your product and processes. These as the three “Ps”: Product, Process, and People

All three of the “Ps” work together to maximize the fourth “P”: Profit

If you have problems with any aspect of your product, process, or people, your profitability will suffer. The market does not lie, and it will punish you for poor quality, poor service, and failure to deliver.

 

One of the best ways of discovering where problems exist is to accurately track the metrics of your operation.
You track hit rate, the difference between estimated and actual costs, safety, quality, productivity, just to name a few. You have lagging indicators (like Gross Profit) that tell you how well you’ve done a project, and leading indicators (like daily field production rates) that tell you if you are doing the right things on a project to drive future profitability.

It may sound a little obvious, but your meetings, particularly your weekly project meetings, will be much more effective if you take time, prior to the meetings, to figure out where your issues exist. Look at your lagging and leading indicators, and allow them to point you in the direction of your problems.

Construction meetings get heated and frustrating, so prepare your facts.

Last week an industry colleague, who works for a subcontractor, was telling me about a project meeting he participated in. The senior superintendent, representing the general contractor, gathered a variety of subcontractors together to talk about the value of team work, and not making excuses for quality issues or schedule delays. The superintendent illustrated his point by highlighting my colleague’s company for their failure to meet the schedule and the impact that had on the other trades. Being called out publicly like that stunned my colleague, but fortunately he was prepared with some facts. He pointed out the general contractor was the root cause of the schedule problems because they had pushed back the start of the project a number of times.  We all know people who fail to accurately identify the source of problems, and like to shift the blame, and the cost, onto others. That’s why being prepared with facts before a meeting is so important.

Once you’ve got the problem accurately identified you need to give some thought to who you would like to participate in the meeting to solve the problem. That leads us to the second step in the meeting preparation process: Pick the Team

Strike the right balance between quality and quantity.
Invite your leaders who are directly affected by the problem, and anyone else who would have input from a technical- or process-based perspective. Depending on the topic, you may have someone someone from a completely different department attend, to get some input from an outside perspective. For example, say your ratio between bids made and bids won (hit rate) is not good enough, and you call a meeting to figure out how it can be improved. Invite in one or two PMs and Superintendents to give their view. They’ll have insights from the field, in terms of the best types of clients to work with and projects to work on, that may have a positive impact.

Whatever mix you pick, don’t have too many participants. I recommend somewhere between six and ten—but not more than twelve. This gives you diversity of input without too many voices muddying the messages.

You can be crystal clear on the problem you need to address, gather the right team to get ideas on how to solve the problem, but you can still have a terrible meeting if you don’t take the third step of prior preparation: Make the Rules

Here are the top three rules that will ensure a great meeting:

1. Focus
You should spend no more than one hour at a time meeting to solve a problem. More than that and the attendee’s attention wanders and their energy wanes. Since it’s only an hour insist that every participant puts away their phones, shuts their laptops, and commits to being focused for the entire length of the meeting without distraction.

 

 

2. Participate
Everyone who’s been invited to the meeting has been because they have something to contribute. No one gets to hide in the corner, and no one gets to dominate. Drop the mask, and commit to tackling the challenge, today.

 

 

 

3. Don’t Be a Jerk
Sometimes the best ideas to solve a problem come from the most inarticulate or unpopular member of the team. We are not in junior high anymore, so that means suspending judgment regarding the validity of ideas. No laughing at, mocking, or belittling another’s input.

 

 

 

This summer, wildfires raged across my home state of California.
Many houses were destroyed by the flames. Some structures in the fire zone survived because of prior preparation. Property owners kept flammable objects 30 feet from their houses, cleared leaves from gutters, decks and patios, and trimmed back overhanging trees.  All of this preparation took time, but it was worth it. You can take a lesson from this, and make sure you maximize the effectiveness of your meetings by focusing on three aspects of prior-preparation: Identify Problems Accurately, Pick the Team, Make the Rules

Speaking of preparation, I went out to the store last week and got some baking soda. Next time I bake my chocolate chip cookies my kids will be smiling.

Prior preparation is one part of running effective problem-solving meetings.
If you’d like to learn more about a meeting framework that I’ve used with construction companies for over a decade, click download my FREE (short) report: Kick-Ass Meetings

In the report I break down, step by step, a simple and powerful method to address your toughest challenges and build an action plan to overcome the problem in less than an hour.

I know you’ll find it extremely useful, so click this link to get your copy.