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Coal, Cost and Culture: MEETINGS…are your people solving problems or creating new ones?

Oilfield Technology,

No matter what you do for a living, you probably attend meetings. These meetings are scheduled for different reasons: communications, including pre-shift meetings with operations/maintenance supervisors and crews. Review of performance trends and developing maintenance plans, forecasts and budgets. Co-ordinating work activities between internal departments and/or external suppliers. Sharing ideas about process changes or solving process problems.

Hours spent in meetings are significant and seem to rise with increasing levels of responsibility. All companies hope that the ROI on meetings will come in the form of more tonnes, lower costs and higher earnings. Managers assume that because “people are meeting”, progress is being made or that problems are being solved. But does this really happen on a consistent basis?

Over the past 30+ years, I have attended thousands of meetings with people from all production functions, maintenance, engineering, exploration, planning, budgeting, procurement, environmental, permitting, safety, accounting, marketing, IT, legal, mine/division/senior management and even external suppliers. Many times I had expectations about how these meetings would go: who would do most of the talking and who would come to listen but not speak, who would make commitments to follow-up after the meeting and who would make commitments with no intent of following up, and who would refuse to attend and who would attend that did not need to be there.

Sometimes I was pleased with the quality of the discussion; other times I remember thinking “No wonder it takes so long to get things done here” or “It’s no surprise that production is below forecast and costs are high”.       

Think for a minute about meetings you have attended during 2011:

  • Were real problems ignored or not addressed?
  • Did people hesitate to bring up some topics for discussion?
  • Were commitments made that were never acted on?
  • Did some people refuse to attend when their presence was required to reach agreement?
  • Was “political correctness” more important than solving a problem only discussed “behind closed doors”?
  • Did the dialogue wander from topic to topic, causing meetings to end without an action plan?
  • Were important points raised but ignored or “glossed over” by the person running the meeting?
  • Did attendees refuse to track action items because they did not want to follow up afterwards? 
  • Did one department approve action items for other people or departments without their knowledge? 
  • Were new problems created during the meeting due to the way it was conducted?
  • Were you frustrated when you left the meeting?
  • Did you suspect that nothing would change after the meeting ended?

Meetings with these characteristics expose reasons for shortfalls in performance. If you answered “yes” to these questions, how much money was left on the table? Losses due to meeting dysfunction come in the form of tons that could have been produced but weren’t, dollars spent to correct avoidable problems, overruns on capital projects, etc. These losses frequently are in the thousands of dollars but may run into the millions of dollars.

“Yes” answers DO NOT mean that people don’t care about the company. “Yes” answers DO indicate a lack of awareness about the direct connection between meeting dynamics, the bottom line and other issues: 

Important projects that were delayed, failed to deliver the expected results, or died before completion. Conflict and/or confusion within and between departments and within the management team. People that are used to the confusion and accept it as “part of the culture”. Expectations set with the workforce, departments, upper management and even Wall Street that are not met, damaging management credibility.  

Is this problem preventable? Yes! It is possible to raise awareness about 1) what’s missing from meeting formats and 2) how production, cost, culture and credibility all suffer as a result. People will often choose better behaviours once they understand the cost of their current behaviours. Interactive coaching combined with collaborative tools help people make that change quickly, which improves meeting dynamics, the bottom line and credibility.

The first step is yours… watch what happens at the next meeting you attend. If you answer “yes” to one of the above questions, you are missing an opportunity to fix a problem that could be sabotaging your bottom line and culture.                     

Thought for the month: Meeting dynamics cannot be separated from bottom line results. We hold people accountable for millions of dollars of improved equipment performance and cost reduction, but don’t hold them accountable for effective interaction or participation in problem identification or resolution to achieve those improvements.

Author: Kay Sever CMC, CQIA, Sustainable Improvement Consultant and Coach. Kay Sever is a leader in sustainable improvement for mines and plants. She combines 29 years of mining experience with a common sense approach to improvement that raises awareness about lost opportunity and hidden barriers that prevent improvement success.

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