David Andersen, CEO of Andersen Construction, was stopped as he left the stage after his keynote. "Wow," the man said. "I can't believe this. You're giving away your secret sauce!"

I spoke with Andersen about how his company runs meetings. Andersen Construction, regularly listed on Building Design + Construction's Top 100 contractors list, has developed a reputation for both excellent service and a great work environment. Our own research shows that this combination of a healthy culture and healthy profits can only be found in organizations that know how to meet well

Beyond simply meeting well, healthy, high-performing organizations design meetings to reflect their values and put the culture they want into practice. While the key practices underlying a healthy meeting culture are common, every organization has its special spin. For example, while both the U.S. Navy Seals and Pixar Animation Studios hold rigorous action reviews--a type of meeting used to learn and improve fast--the way they each run those reviews feels quite different. 

I wanted to learn how Andersen mixed his company's "secret sauce." Andersen replied, "When he said that--about giving away the secret sauce--I had to laugh. We didn't invent any of this stuff! We just adapted it to work for us and stuck with it." 

Want some of that secret sauce in your organization? Here's what to do.

1. Adapt working team agreements to drive client success. 

Working team agreements prevent communication problems that arise when people make bad assumptions. You draft a working team agreement in a meeting, then post the document for the team's reference later. The agreement will spell out how the team expects to work together, including details like normal working hours, response times for internal communication, and how the team will track progress. 

Working team agreements come in many forms and can include whatever the team finds most useful. For example, one customer success team at HubSpot, the online marketing software platform, has every new employee write a document called "How to Work With Me" that the whole team then reads and discusses together. Remote collaboration expert Lisette Sutherland leads workshops that help remote workers agree on the technologies they'll use and how they'll work across time zones, and product teams often create their team agreement as one step in their multi-day chartering workshop.

Andersen Construction practices vision-values leadership, with everyone pursuing a strong vision of becoming each client's "Builder of Choice," while ensuring their approach stays within bounds defined by their values. To do this well, they realized they needed the same clear expectations between the construction crews and clients that internal teams get with a working team agreement. 

It became obvious they needed a better plan when a big corporate project began failing due to communication problems. Andersen had heard about an approach called partnering, where you get all the stakeholders together and you define clear expectations, so the company decided to hire a facilitator to run the two-day workshop.

Andersen said, "It worked! It worked so well, we knew we had to do it for every project going forward."

2. Develop a "communication programming" practice.

For the first year, Andersen hired a facilitator for every project. Then, they began facilitating these sessions themselves and refining the approach.

Now, many years later, they have the system locked. Andersen calls this process "communication programming," and it can be completed during lunch in an hour.

Andersen said this process is key to keeping everyone on the same page. "We never skip this step because it's where you learn the really important stuff," he said. "If the client's promotion is riding on the project, or if the budget is literally all the money they have, that's important to know up front."

Once the communication plan is documented, everyone on a project gets a copy, including the client, subcontractors, and partners. 

3. Put the agreement to work.

While many teams create these agreements, few of them use them as well as they could. Andersen's teams don't make this mistake. Once per month or more, everyone gets together and rates how well they're meeting expectations. Any rating that is less than satisfactory gets discussed and resolved in the monthly meeting. 

With these two meetings--the communication programming and the monthly review--the teams at Andersen Construction not only know what the client expects up front, so they can earn their trust, but they ensure their performance exceeds those expectations throughout the project so they keep it. 

Now, the question to consider: how could you design your meetings to create clear expectations for success in your organization?

Published on: Mar 6, 2019
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