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Today I thought I would address the cornerstones of business leadership, the company meeting structure. At the moment this is a current matter to me, and I thought now is the time to share this information onward. I’ll let you in on a few crucial principles.
The first principle is that the company meeting structure can be improved significantly. I’ll show you why and how.
Let’s begin with why this traditional hierarchical structure is needed. It might be too obvious, but it necessarily isn’t. We’re talking about self-management. I attended an evaluation team meeting where this topic was discussed. The team consisted of scientists.
A lot happens in a self-managing organization. People get to direct themselves. Better organizing methods than a traditional hierarchy might be discovered. In my opinion that a traditional hierarchy has very many good qualities. Can we find a new delicate balance, in which hierarchy and alternating teams can work together with agility?
A meeting structure is good because its job is to lead and to ensure productivity. It is also the backbone of the operation. Many organizations that have given up their backbone have realized that having a backbone has its perks. An organization can live without a backbone as an ameba, but it needs a lot of rethinking.
I helped make this type of transformation in a Finnish organization, where a 20-year-old hierarchical organization transformed into a new self-managing business without named superiors. The process went very well, but it’s an interesting process, alright. There are many ways to organize between a traditional hierarchy and a self-managing hierarchy. However, we should always understand the direction we need to proceed in. The direction needs to be looked at from every angle, it requires prioritizing, and that’s leading at its best.
Many require a backbone. If everything just floats around, it doesn’t make employees happy. On the other hand, if everything is too strict, that doesn’t work either. A delicate balance for every business culture and people’s historic experience must be found. It’s very important. We must figure out what we need to do and how we want to lead ourselves. This is why a meeting structure is usually needed. In practice, it happens through a systematic rhythm of meetings, which are booked well in advance. These meetings need to be written down on everyone’s calendars. It gives a lot of structure.
In practice, several organizations have a hierarchy, levels. A private entrepreneur is alone, but they must also collect their thoughts and stop to think. They have a meeting with themselves. A need for a clearer direction arises already in an organization with tens of people. Otherwise, people begin going in different directions. A need for strategy creation and visualization is born. One must get organized. In a bigger organization, it’s a must to think about who does what and who is responsible for what. This, however, can be done traditionally or in a new agile way.
An organization has a lot of teamwork, which happens outside the box and the home teams. I call my superior’s team my home team. We need parallel teams, alternating ones. These are customer teams, project teams, etc. These teams are constantly on top of the hierarchy. I truly love this hybrid organization, as you might have observed. Hybrid organizations require more team meetings.
Let’s create each team with its own forum and its own living digital board. I personally use Trello. All the group’s goals are made into columns, which consist of notes, on which the assignments are written down on. These can be marked according to color to indicate how the task is progressing. When the team’s work situation is visualized on the board, efficiency goes through the roof. If conversation only happens during meetings, the conversation is left undocumented and disappears. Recording the meeting doesn’t help, because no one is willing to watch and to go through the whole thing. One must document the important points.
The fact that we document, write down the main points, and upkeep the work pile, is a pretty tough thing. When we prioritize work tasks for the next sprint while using a digital board, it diminishes people’s stress. They no longer need to carry the whole weight of the work pile, it’s enough to do the work only for the next sprint. After that, the situation is evaluated again, and tasks for the next sprint are decided. A sprint is a calendar time: A week, two weeks, or four weeks. It’s never late, the prioritizing for the next sprint is done when the previous one is finished. This truly increases efficiency. Nothing is as important as the choice, the prioritizing.
My claim is that every team needs to have a Teams and its own board. The board displays the group’s Purpose: Why it exists and what its next big goals are. Everyone must be able to write on the board, so Excel isn’t the tool for this. Rarely, if ever, have I seen an Excel chart that many people update simultaneously. Excel is a great tool, but it’s more of a tool for individuals.
The point is the wisdom – which I didn’t invent myself – but it is something I always speak in favor of: Make your work visible! Immediately after you have made the work visible, things begin to happen.
The next epiphany is that conversations can be continued in between meetings. If, and when questions and challenges arise between meetings, are people expected to wait until the next meeting? That’s slow. In practice, conversations and decision-making can be continued in between meetings. This is something that essentially improves efficiency. Don’t wait for a meeting. Today, this is simulated with email, but all the topics and messages are only disorganized in everyone’s email and work becomes fragmented. The structure increases efficiency.
I believe in the following: Technology is a blessing. It is here to make conversation between meetings more efficient. The conversation continues between meetings and decisions can be made. The trick that will increase the effect is that conversations are not kept in emails! Instead, conversations are held in common chat forums like Teams, for instance. Same subject messages are no longer disorganized in everyone’s email, they are beautifully bundled into the Teams chat threads.
A person can be a part of several simultaneously ongoing conversations. All conversations also aren’t equally important. The benefit of Teams is that it’s possible to dam the messages. One can prioritize which messages one wants notifications from. Some messages one wants to be notified of immediately, some not so often, some only now and then. The new system is to read the Teams messages first thing in the morning, after that the ad hoc messages in the email. The volume of emails decreases substantially. Fast communication increases any which way you have defined it yourself.
The benefit of it is also that if an employee leaves their job, documentation isn’t in their private email. Reading work-related emails is illegal and they cannot be read with the whole organization. A new employee can scroll up and down the conversation and is therefore left with a much more detailed understanding of what’s happening.
This is a great opportunity! Get out of the email! Everything that’s left in the email is ad hoc messages. Email communication can decrease up to 80% and conversations are moved to Teams. Everyone can prioritize which messages they want to read. All the extra ones will no longer disturb the important ones. Arranging digital teams is a great opportunity!
This is a change of infrastructure, a cultural change for the management system as well. Those that can take this into practice better than others create a competitive advantage. But I always add: If you can manage the old way, keep going on. No one is forcing anyone to make changes, as long as money won’t run out.
When approaching a company meeting structure, we give every meeting a reason to why it exists. What are its motive and goal? How often is a meeting held? How long does it take? An hour? Two? Who participates in it and what is its general agenda? Can meetings be cut short due to online teams? Some KPI fanatics also define the meeting indicator.
Let’s look into this traditional organization once more.
Of course, it’s ok to stick with any organizational model as long as you wish. As long as you manage, that’s that! If the operation efficiency is starting to bug you, you’re no longer managing and this is the time to look and see how others have tackled the issue. This operation model has been developed around the world for decades. In fact, since the 1950’s when the first agile organizations were created.
A traditional organization naturally has a management team. It’s a nice feeling to be a part of the management team, it’s like earning a gold medal. I have however begun to wonder if it indeed isn’t worth a gold medal. A true leader has followers. If your leader didn’t have their position, would you follow them? Quite many would say that they would never follow them. The reason they follow is because their leader is wearing their rank. We need true leaders! If you have one, hold on tight!
A hierarchical organization has several permanent teams: A management team, department leadership teams and the CEO’s teams. However, there are plenty of alternating teams depending on the situation. They usually aren’t specifically defined; they come and go. And that’s a good thing! It already is the embryo of agility.
If we look at how decision-making works, many organizations go as the red arrow in the image above. It has an iteration from top-down and bottom-up. In many places, it’s useful to first ask about what goals people would suggest for the next period. These suggestions are bundled together to see if they are sufficient or does one need to expect more for things to work. This creates the hamburger model, as bottom-up and top-down are combined. The result of iteration is the juicy hamburger patty in the middle.
If you have a traditional organization and you want to roll with it, please do! Go for it! As long as you manage, everyone is happy, also the customers. But when the customers are no longer happy, a question arises if things should be looked at from a new angle. And the answer to that question is always YES!
The fact that many teams are needed doesn’t make this matter any easier. They exist also in the traditional organization whether you have visualized them or not, there they are. It’s almost impossible to operate within one box, one needs inter-box teams. This is where customer teams, project teams, special assignment teams, product development teams, etc. are created. This can be a bit tricky to manage.
One organization went and changed its whole company meeting structure to get rid of the management group. They realized that the management group should be divided into several and that discussions about customers and sales and inner processes and managing should happen separately.
Running the business was a conversation only for the business leaders. People and governance were for business leaders, HR, and other supporting functions. Once every quarter, they had a Changing the business – conversation, where they made slight alterations to the strategy. The new thing was only to include the business leaders and none of the functional staff. A bigger strategy upgrade is done separately, where the functions are included.
Once a month, a performance review is held for the departments. It’s a number meeting in which the performance of the business unit is evaluated. The meeting includes the CEO, department leader, CFO, and the unit controller.
In addition, a larger quarterly meeting is held online. The whole organization is included in the check-up. Online meetings utilize teamwork by dividing people into breakout rooms to discuss.
So, do we need a management group at all? Not necessarily, because all teams require leadership. Is it actually even logically correct to talk about a management group? One unit quit its management group. Only topics that need to be addressed when needed are taken into the conversation. Simple.
Many companies have new goal to reduce the time that goes into meetings. Let’s hold fewer meetings and make them quicker!
Can the meeting time be reduced by half? It might be doable if a digital twin of the operation exists. This is the digital twin of operation. That means that the operation exists in Teams and on its digital board! Between meetings, topics can be dealt with asyncronically and the need to discuss during meetings is reduced.
Reduce your meeting time to half! That’s quite something for the business culture!
How is a new structure created? In practice, the company leader begins to wonder if they should create a new meeting structure. They might have a “right hand” or an outside professional to give advice. Then the leader creates a draft and asks their own group for opinions. I think it’s efficient that one starts with a suggestion and not from ground zero with everyone. It might be that the matter dilutes with more ease this way.
Make your company meeting structure better, and your meetings quicker!
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