In the leadership book Death by Meetings, Patrick Lencioni states that meetings need structure to be useful and efficient. Meetings that attempt to discuss or accomplish too much are "like a bad stew with too many ingredients", or, in my mind, can turn into "Seinfeld meetings", which end up being, you guessed it, meetings about nothing!
In fact, Seinfeld, the American sitcom, brought us a lot of funny moments that can apply to everyday business life. Like receipts in George Costanza's wallet, an internal auditor's schedule can become too full of meetings, whether it be a process walkthrough, validating potential audit issues with an audit customer, or a team meeting coordinating roles and responsibilities for an upcoming audit project. The problem with all of these meetings is that if they aren't organized properly they can work against you and they aren't going to get better on their own, you have to work to improve them. As Kramer told Jerry once "I don't know if you've noticed, but lately I've been drifting aimlessly....But I've finally realized what's missing in my life... Structure!"
Internal auditors would fare well-taking inspiration from these iconic Seinfeldisms and keep the following five ideas in mind to better structure their meetings and help them be more efficient. (That's right. Either grab your headphones or close your office door and block off the next ten minutes of your schedule).
1. Don't Leave The Audience Guessing
Be clear with the intent of the meeting; what will be discussed; what the objectives and desired outcomes are; where and when will it occur; who will be talking or leading the meeting. Setting expectations helps ensure your message will be understood, and that you are respecting other's time.
Otherwise, the end result may be "no soup for you!"
2. No Surprises!
Don't surprise the point-of-contact of your audit with issues – if it's new discuss off-line first. Unlike Jerry who felt he was "in the unfortunate position of having to consider people's feelings!" you are in a position of knowing the ramifications of surprises.
If it's critical, consider rescheduling. If the meeting is going forward, again, only bring up and discuss items that your point-of-contact is aware of. Surprising the point-of-contact not only can frustrate them but may undermine their position if the rest of the audience is left with the impression of that person not knowing what is going on.
3. "Yes, Mr. Steinbrenner. No, Mr. Steinbrenner. OK Mr. Steinbrenner"
George had plenty of meetings with Mr. Steinbrenner where he was left wondering why he was there. For your meetings during an internal audit project, don't assume the right people are going to be there – ensure it. The purpose of the meeting is to communicate information and if the stakeholder, boss, liaison, point-of-contact, etc., chances are, your message will be lost in translation. Save yourself from the unnecessary follow-up meetings, or worse, work done based on incorrect information and make sure the people you need in a meeting will be there.
4. "Why must there always be a problem"
Like George's life, meetings can unearth many challenging situations because of people questioning information shared during the meeting. To prevent this type of problem from occurring, you and your team need to understand even the most basic facts that will be discussed.
And if you are sharing a lot of information, provide an executive summary or the cliff notes' of your discussion point as well. Many busy executives don't have the time to read or listen to a diatribe of information, so prepare your presentations to be concise. And if you are asked a question that you are not sure of the answer, don't try to answer it on the fly. Its' ok to seek the answer to a specific question after the meeting.
5. Don't "Yada, Yada, Yada"
Filler words, such as "umm", "ahh", "like", "you know" and "obviously" used during an internal audit meeting can highlight that an internal auditor may not be confident in what s/he is sharing and is indicative of being unprepared. Dropping the occasional "yadda, yada, yada" might work for a TV skit, but in reality, whatever the word, do your best to stop using it. Many internal audit managers spend time with their team members preparing before key meetings, such as an audit closing meeting. Preparing for meetings will validate what you are saying is correct, and improve your credibility with your audit customer.
The information you share during meetings is important. So should the planning and structure of the meetings you schedule to communicate this information. By acting on these meeting best practices, internal auditors can better develop and maintain their business relationships, focus on the message at hand and work to deliver results and recommendations for improvement in their organization. Make your meetings be "about something!"