Uday Salunkhe - Designing Productive meetings

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					             Designing Productive meetings
             Anuja Agarwal, Dr. S. Gondhalekar, Prof. Dr. Uday Salunkhe


              The Research paper introduces a new method of
              conducting efficient and productive meetings using the
              elements of Design thinking. A research was conducted on
              118 participants, who were given a task that required them
              to conduct meetings in groups and to come up with the
              solutions of the problem stated. The productivity of the
              meetings was measured in terms of the number of ideas
              generated by each group. The statistical analysis of the
              results showed that using the elements of Design Thinking
              in the process, greatly improved the number of solution
              ideas generated and helped in making the meetings more
              productive. The current study is a strong indicator towards
              the tangible benefits of using Design Thinking approach in
              Management functions and paves way further research on
              the impact of using this new approach in Management.

              Keywords: Design thinking,          creativity,   productive
              meetings, Snow-ball method,         designing     productive
              meetings, group discussion.

Introduction : Why is it important to make meetings more „productive‟

The Decision making process is no longer the forte of the elite top management
but has trickled down to the wider levels in the organization. All employees are
entrusted with some decision-making at various levels and are held accountable
for the same. This has made it necessary for the management to develop „Decision
making‟ as a democratic process within their organizations to empower the
decision makers at various levels. Holding effective meetings is a necessary part
of the democratic framework of decision making process. With the business
moving faster than ever, meetings are how we stay informed. Meetings provide a
democratic and collaborative way of realizing a shared goal. It is a platform for
sharing of ideas coming out of people with varied experiences. As a result today's
professionals are attending more meetings than ever done in the past. The case is
not only so in India but in other countries as well.
 According to a survey data, Managers spend more than 30 per cent of their time in
meetings. During an average meeting, agenda items are covered in only 53% of the
scheduled time, with the remaining time “unproductive.” In the “do more with less time”
climate that we are in today, it is important to maximize the effectiveness of meetings. A
typical busy professional attends nearly 60 meetings a month, of which more than 10 per
cent involve travel out of town 2. A study of salaries and benefits from unproductive
meetings involving 16 members of a company‟s information technology department over
a year resulted that unproductive meetings were costing the company $1.6 million per

Measure of productivity of meetings

The productivity of meetings is often judged by different parameters depending
on the „Type of meeting‟ being held. In a meeting where the outcome is to find
multiple possible solutions to a defined problem, the more the ideas get generated
for solutions, the more is the chance of getting good quality ideas. This happens
because as the ideas begin to flow, there arises an opportunity to build upon each
other‟s ideas and keep refining the quality of ideas till the point of satisfaction.
Thus the best parameter to judge the productivity of the meeting is the number of
ideas (for solutions) generated in the meeting [1]. In turn, the number of ideas
generated is a function of the „Creative thinking‟ abilities of the members of the
group [2].
If we look closely at the context of a corporate meeting, usually the participants
are corporate executives who have come through a form of management
education that enables them to assess the situation analytically, looking at the
facts rather than possibilities. The analytical approach has it‟s own advantages of
slicing the problem into smaller and more manageable data and task driven
activities in silos. This kind of left brain thinking can become a constraint in
certain situations. On the other hand, the Design Thinking approach is very well
suited for nurturing right brain -Creative thinking in the corporate executives. In
fact, in today‟s world based on Creative economy where „Design‟ is the key
differentiator for a company‟s success, Creativity is emerging as one of the most
important competencies of the future managers.

Design Thinking – A new approach in Management education

Design Thinking is a discipline that uses designer‟s methods to understand the users‟
needs, match them with the technological feasibility and translate into viable business
strategy. It provides a new approach in management education that bases itself on the
need of looking at the Management education from a humane and holistic perspective
rather than creating the silos of functional specialization and resource utilization.

  Ref: Des Moines Business Record; 5/16/2005, Vol. 23 Issue 20, Special Section p22-22, 1/2p
  Research commissioned by MCI WorldCom Conferencing and carried out by the Research Business
  Mississippi Business Journal, September 4-10, 2006 Page 7
The elements of „Design Thinking‟ that further strengthen the architecture of
Management education are:

           a.   Creative thinking
           b.   Human perspective
           c.   Multisensory „Observation‟
           d.   Multidisciplinary inputs from other fields, like Design, Technology, Social
                Sciences, Psychology, Anthropology etc.
           e.   Integrating Management functions as opposed to the silos created through
           f.   Formulate problems and Visualize innovative/ Breakthrough solutions.
           g.   Visual Communication
           h.   Nurture „Questioning mind‟
           i.   Project based learning & Prototyping

Designing productive meetings using the elements of design thinking:

Using the elements of Design Thinking, we designed a new method of conducting
meetings which enhances their effectiveness. We coined a new term for this method as
the „Snow-ball Method‟. Usually the meetings are conducted in a group discussion mode,
which inherently does not follow any set rules of speaking or listening. In this method,
more emphasis is laid on first sharing the observations and pain-points related to the issue
being discussed, listening to each other‟s ideas for plausible solutions and then either
build on them or add your own new ideas. Thus, the ideas „snow-ball‟ into bigger and
better ones.

The ‘Snow-ball Method’:

The „Snow-ball Method‟ of conducting the meetings is most effective when the
meeting is about coming up with solutions for a problem experienced by all the
members of the group. This method comprises of the following steps to be taken
by the members of the meeting to solve the problem stated to them at the
beginning of the meeting.

1. The members select a facilitator from amongst themselves.

2. The facilitator writes the objective set by the group, on the board provided.

3. The members must begin by voicing the observations and any pain-points relevant to
   the topic given, within their group while the others listen. The facilitator notes these
   observations and pain-points of each member on the board visible to all. This is to
   ensure that everyone in the group has seen the issue from each other‟s perspective and
   also looked at the positive as well as the pain-points surrounding the situation.

4. Once the issue has been looked at holistically, and thoughts about the same shared
   with each other, the process of ideation for the solution begins as per the following

5. Each member, including the facilitator, gives ideas for the solution of the problem,
   one by one moving in the clockwise direction. These ideas are written on the board by
   the facilitator.

6. Every group member is invited to build on each other‟s ideas.

7. While the ideas are being generated no member of the group should comment or
   discuss on each other‟s idea, the focus should be on generating the solutions and not
   evaluating them.

8. We recommend at least two rounds of idea generation within the given time period
   post which all the ideas have to be re-looked at for suggesting a recommended course
   of action.

9. The solutions generated as well the recommended course of action should be
   submitted on separate sheets of paper.

The method described above uses subtle interventions of some of the elements of Design
Thinking. For instance when the members of the group are asked to identify the pain-
points related to the problem stated, it is a reminder to them to think from a human
perspective and bring their multisensory observation skills to the fore. Observation itself
is a very powerful tool used by designers to generate information in a non-obtrusive
manner. Therefore the members of the group are encouraged to observe the situation
around the issue and bring forth their experiences during the observation exercise.
Observations bring out the positives as well as the pain-points related to the given
context/issue. Recording of the ideas on the board provides the visual communication
among the members as they all can see each other‟s ideas and build upon them if
required. Prompting each member to contribute two ideas in each round and setting the
rule of „no-evaluation of ideas‟ in this round, nudges them to come up with new ideas
without the fear of being judged upon too early, nurtures their creativity and motivates
the members to contribute more ideas freely. The more the number of ideas generated,
the more is their creativity quotient [2].

Normally the meetings are conducted in a group discussion mode, where people present
their views and there are arguments and counter arguments to the points. In the end the
strongest ideas who survive the test of argument, wins. The snow-ball method is different
because it helps to build upon the ideas of each other. It has some similarities with the
brainstorming method of generating solutions to the problem stated [5]; but the Snow-ball
method ensures definite enhancements over the latter in the situations where the problem
whose solution is sought has been experienced by the participants.

   1. The participants are encouraged to share their Observations and Pain points
      surrounding the problem stated, before they can start ideating for the solutions.
      The participants spent 40% time in sharing observations and pain points, 40% in
      ideation for finding solutions and 20% to compile their recommendations.
   2. These Observations are listed down on the board by the facilitator. Listing their
      on the board is a confirmation of „having-been-heard‟ and the mind is then free to
      move to think about the next step of solution ideation.

The Experimental Design:

We made an experimental design to see whether this „Snow-ball Method‟ actually makes
the meetings more productive or not, which led us to formulate the following Hypothesis:

The Hypothesis:

H0: The Snow-ball method is not significantly different from Group discussion.
H1: The Snow-ball method is superior to the normal Group discussion.

We decided to test the hypothesis experimentally by having a group conduct the meeting
by each of the two methods. Thus the „treatment‟ was the snow-ball method and the
„control‟ was the Group Discussion. The result of the experiment was measured in terms
of the number of ideas generated during the meeting since this was the appropriate
measure (as explained earlier) .We envisaged that the composition of the group may
impact the results, so we took the group composition as the „blocking‟ or „noise‟ factor.
We had two variables, „Method of discussion‟ and „Composition of group‟. Each one
varied at two levels.
                              Level 1-      Group Discussion
Method of discussion
                              Level 2-      Snow-ball

                              Level 1-        Single Disciplinary group
Group Composition
                              Level 2-        Multi Disciplinary group

The full factorial design consisted of four experiments (22 variables). We used the full
factorial design of 4 experiments. Each experiment was replicated 8 times.

We made two types of groups on the basis of their previous qualifications.
We took 16 groups, 8 groups comprised of participants from similar academic
qualifications, for example : „only engineers‟, ‟only science graduates‟, „only commerce
graduates‟ etc. The other 8 groups comprised of mix of participants from various
academic qualifications.
Table 1: Number of groups participating in the experiment

                       8              8
                       8              8

Each group was given the „treatment‟ and „control‟. We also envisaged that the sequence
of Group Discussion or Snow-ball will have an effect on the results, so we had half the
groups do the Group Discussion first and Snow-ball later; and the other half groups do
the process in reverse order. We selected topics where the participants had already
experienced the issue. The assignment of the group was done by randomization. The
participants receiving the „treatment‟ were explained the snow-ball method and were
asked to use the same while coming up with the solutions. The necessary tools like the
white board and flip chart, typically used in a design thinking approach used for problem
solving were made available to them. In the „control‟ group no instructions were given on
the process to be followed, in effect they were left free to carry out Group Discussion to
complete the task. The whole procedure of decision making and the way in which the
meetings were conducted, were video recorded by the volunteers.

This experimental design which consisted of 2 variables at 2 levels enabled us to estimate
the main effects and interaction effects.

Analysis and Interpretation of results:

Table 2: Data table

Method used            Group Composition            Number of ideas generated by the 8 groups

Group-          Single-
Discussion(GD)/ disciplinary(S)/
Snow-ball(SN)   Multi-

GD                     S                               9     8   15    9     6     2    13       8
GD                     M                              18     9   15   15    10     4    10       8
SN                     S                              16    16   25   20    13    16    18      18
SN                     M                              16    16   18   18     7     9    15       7
Analysis using 2 way ANOVA:

Table 3: The ANOVA table

Source                            df             SS              MS              F         p

Method of discussion      1      253.125                         253.125         13.53     0.001
Group composition         1         8.000                          8.000          0.43     0.518
Interaction               1        91.125                         91.125          4.87     0.036
Error                   28       523.750                          18.705
Total                   31       876.000
(Standard ANOVA notation has been used)

     1. As the ANOVA table shows, we can safely reject H0 at 0.1% level of
        significance. Concluding that, „there is a significant difference between the two
     2. The group composition has no significant effect on the results. If we were to
        claim that group comp has significant effect, the probability of our being wrong
        would be as high as 51.8%.
     3. The interaction is significant at 3.6% level of significance. We investigated
        further by calculating the values of main effect and interaction effect and
        checking their significance by plotting them on normal probability plot.

Table 4: Main interaction and effects table

     A            B                                     A=1       A=2      B=1       B=2   A×B     A×B
                                                                                           =1      =2
Method        Group         Avg. no.
used          compo-        of ideas
              sition        generated

GD            S                   8.75                    8.75              8.75                   8.75
GD            M                  11.13                   11.13                11.13 11.13
SN            S                  17.75                            17.75 17.75       17.75
SN            M                  12.88                            12.88       12.88       12.88

                                              Total=     19.88 30.63 26.50 24.00 28.88 21.63
                                              N=          2.00 2.00 2.00 2.00 2.00 2.00
                                              Avg=        9.94 15.31 13.25 12.00 14.44 10.81

                                              Effect=     5.38             -1.25           -3.63
GD= Group Discussion, SN= Snow-ball, S= Single disciplinary, M= Multidisciplinary
Where 1 indicates the variable at low value and 2 indicates the variable at high value
As we can see that the main effect of the method used (Group Discussion or Snow-ball)
is 5.38 and the main effect of Group composition (Single disciplinary or
Multidisciplinary) is small. Interaction effect is 3.63.

                             Probability Plot of Effects
                                   Normal - 95% CI
                                                                Mean      0.1667
                                                                StDev      4.669
            95                                                  N              3
                                                                AD         0.268
                                                                P-Value    0.359




                 -20   -10            0          10        20

Figure 1: Probability Plot of Effects

When we plotted these three effects on the normal probability plot, we found the
„interaction effects‟ to be on the straight line, where as the „main effects‟ were away from
the line. The „main effect‟ of the method used was to the right of the line. Since the point
falling on the line could be due to random effects, we cannot accept the „interaction
effect‟ as meaningful. Thus the 2 tests applied, i.e. ANOVA and Normal probability plot,
strongly indicate that only the method used in the process has a significant effect on the

Applying Signal to Noise ration on the Effects:

We wanted to check the Robustness of the Snow-ball Method used for conducting
meetings, so we calculated the signal to noise ratio for the Larger-the-better case:

                                             S/N ratio = -10 log(∑(1/y2 )/n)
Where y is the number of ideas and S is the number of groups and the S/N ratio is the Signal to Noise ratio.

Considering the S/N ratios, the main effect of the method used (GD or Snow-ball) is 6.56,
the main effect of the Group composition (Single disciplinary or Multi-disciplinary ) is
0.14, and the interaction effect is -4.35.
Table 5: Main interaction and effects table using the S/N Ratio

           A                B                                        A=1                A=2     B=1     B=2     A×B     A×B
                                                                                                                =1      =2
Method                Group             Signal to
used                  compo-            Noise
                      sition            ratio

GD                    S                        13.66                    13.66                   13.66                   13.66
GD                    M                        18.15                    18.15                           18.15   18.15
SN                    S                        24.57                                    24.57   24.57           24.57
SN                    M                        20.36                                    20.36           20.36           20.36

                                                          Total=        31.82           44.94   38.24   38.51   42.72   34.03
                                                          N=             2.00            2.00    2.00    2.00    2.00    2.00
                                                          Avg=          15.91           22.47   19.12   19.26   21.36   17.01
                                                          Effect=        6.56                    0.14           -4.35
GD= Group Discussion, SN= Snow-ball, S= Single disciplinary, M= Multidisciplinary
Where 1 indicates the variable at low value and 2 indicates the variable at high value

                            Probability Plot of S/NEffects
                                        Normal - 95% CI
                                                                     Mean      0.7833
                                                                     StDev      5.483
           95                                                        N              3
                                                                     AD         0.201
                                                                     P-Value    0.578




                -30   -20       -10       0         10     20   30

Figure 2: Probability plot of Signal to Noise Ratio effects

The probability plot of the main and interaction effects of S/N ratios shows that the
interaction effect is practically on the normal probability curve and hence cannot be
treated as meaningful, even though its 'p' value in ANOVA is 4.6% (below 5%). The
same is true of the main effect of Group composition (Single disciplinary or
Multidisciplinary). The main effect of Method (GD or Snow-ball) is on the right of the
normal probability line, indicating that it could be significant.

We also applied ANOVA by converting each response to Signal to Noise ratio using the
formula :
                         S/N ratio = -10 log(∑(1/y2 )/n)
Where y is the number of ideas and S is the number of groups and the S/N ratio is the Signal to Noise ratio.
Table 6: 2 way ANOVA table for S/N Ratio

Source                         df          SS              MS               F             p

Method of discussion             1         147.424         147.424           9.75         0.004
Group composition                1           1.153           1.153           0.08         0.784
Interaction                      1          64.391          64.391           4.26         0.048
Error                           28         423.418          15.122
Total                           31         636.386

The ANOVA table shows the method to be significant at 0.4% level of significance,
while the group composition is not. We can safely accept that Snow-ball is indeed a
ROBUST4 method for conducting Productive meetings aimed at generating solutions.

Conclusion and further scope:
We conclude at 99% level of confidence that:
  1) Snow-ball method is significantly superior to the Group Discussion in the task of
      finding solution to the problem stated.
  2) Group composition does not matter.
  3) Snow-ball is a “robust” method. By robust, we mean that it is not sensitive to
      variation in the noise parameters, such as group composition.

We have provided a research framework for conducting meetings, which could be used
for different output and input variables. We have used this method to test the number of
creative ideas generated during meetings, it could be used to test the „Decision making
skills‟ or the „consensus building skills‟ in meetings. Similarly the measuring parameters
could change to „type of ideas‟ instead of „quality of ideas‟. With this research we have
introduced a new process of conducting productive meetings using one of the elements of
„Design Thinking‟. More such examples of using other elements of „Design thinking‟ to
improve various management related functions could be developed and tested upon to
give a conclusive evidence that using „Design Thinking‟ approach in Management
provides an innovative perspective to more effective and efficient management functions.

 Taguchi's formula for Robustness:
Lochner, R.H., and Matar J.E., Designing for Quality, Chapman & Hall, 1990, pp 134-137.


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Description: This article talks about new methods of conducting efficient and productive meetings using the elements of Design thinking. It has been co- authored by Dr. Uday Salunkhe, Director of the prestigious Welingkar Institute of Management and Research.