Every business battles the danger of ‘doing business with ourselves’. Meetings, problems, strategy, administration and process can take up all our time. Focus outside the organisation to learn and adapt. Challenge the value of your internal deliberations if not supported by customer data or customer conversations.
As a collaboration expert, I say that collaboration isn’t the answer to every problem. If collaboration is not bringing something new or different to the table, it is burning through precious time and resources.
Doing Business With Yourself
Very few organisations have a rule against inviting multiple people to an internal or even external meeting. Often the expectation is that every significant discussion will have a large internal participation. You can destroy a lot of value in an organisation doing business with yourself.
Large and long meetings with multiple internal participants are a warning sign of lack of clarity of accountability. Someone in that room should own the problem. Do they really need to consult with everyone all at once? Are they actually shifting accountability for their issue to others? On what basis are decisions going to be made? Does anyone in this meeting have insights from outside the organisation in the form of customer data, conversations or research? Do you have a lack of trust such that everyone needs to watch each other work?
Steve Blank has strongly advocated that startups and organisations ‘need to get outside the building’ but for many organisations they continue to invest time and resources in doing business with themselves. This is particularly dangerous when the meetings are to discuss, decide and shape customer propositions. If you don’t have the customer actually in the room, how do you know what they want? Are you just going to take the word of the highest paid person?
Ending business with ourselves
There are some key steps to ending business with ourselves:
- Accountabilities: Make sure accountabilities are clear. Know who is accountable for the issue in question and who gets the final say. If this person isn’t running the meeting, then change the chair or shut the meeting down.
- Customers First: Use customer insights to make decisions about customer propositions. If you don’t have them, don’t holding a meeting internally, go out and make some calls, test something or do some customer research.
- Who is in the room? Challenge the need for the second and every subsequent internal person in an internal or external meeting. If you don’t know why you are invited, don’t go. If there are too many people going who don’t add value, ask the host to change approach. Be prepared to ask others what they bring to a discussion. Anyone who needs to attend a meeting for awareness or status updates can read minutes instead.
- Insights: If a meeting is going on with opinions and no insight, shut it down. Make people do the work with customers instead to enable the decision maker to reach a clear conclusion. The work won’t happen by magic if there hasn’t been preparation, even if it is a fancy workshop run by external consultants.
- Value time. If an issue takes ten minutes to discuss. Start on time and shut down the meeting after 10 minutes. The time blocked for a meeting is the maximum it should take, not a target. Overruning a meeting time is a lack of respect for others and poor management by the host.