How to Have an Effective Morning 'Ops' Meeting

Whether you're the CEO, the office manager, the warehouse supervisor or a construction crew leader, you face a common problem - ensuring the people working for you work effectively and efficiently as a team, toward a common goal. To achieve this - at whatever level you are in the organization - the single biggest tool you have at your disposal is the morning 'ops' meeting. Used consistently and effectively it can directly raise your profitability by improving communications and teamwork, thus reducing waste, redundancy and errors.

What's the purpose of a morning Ops meeting?
Unlike other group or team meetings (like monthly management meetings or strategic offsites), the morning ops meeting is focused solely on the short-term "here-and-now" and has two purposes:

  1. To review the operational details of the day ahead and ensure that they are executed as effectively and efficiently as possible; and
  2. To (briefly) review any potential operational logjams on the near horizon (i.e. within the next few days).

As we'll see, an effective morning ops meeting will be short, very focused on immediate operational issues and constructive. Let's take each of those in turn:

How Long Should the Morning Ops Meeting Last?
Because it's typically held right before most people settle in to their day's work, this meeting needs to be as short as possible while remaining effective - 5 to 20 minutes is ideal.

A small team, say working on a construction site, can afford a shorter meeting - as short as 5 to 7 minutes - as they will continue to work in close proximity during the day. A team of senior executives will need longer - 15 to 20 minutes - to cover matters of more complexity and because they are highly likely to disperse afterwards (and so team communication becomes more difficult).

If you find your ops meeting is regularly running longer than 30 to 45 minutes, you undoubtedly need to review your agenda (see below), and consider ditching some topics or sending them off to a different forum for consideration.

What should I include in my morning meeting?
Only include those issues critical to the smooth running of your direct operations that day, plus a brief look at any looming operational issues that might emerge in the next day or so.

For example, a construction crew foreman will be focused on ensuring that the team knows what the key deliverables are for that day, and coordinating site deliveries, sub-contractors and other needs accordingly, taking into account such issues as forecasted weather, contract deadlines and current overruns.

A warehouse manager might review the daily delivery and dispatch schedules, inventory levels and shortages, floor management issues and safety matters - and may need to do so for each shift, if operating on a 2- or 3-shift basis.

A CEO or general manager will want to coordinate the "three-legged" stool of sales, operations and admin by ensuring communication between the respective managers of such issues as upcoming reporting deadlines, out-of-the-ordinary purchasing or ordering needs, impending inventory shortages or delivery problems and pressing customer service issues.

Your morning ops meeting is not the right forum to discuss medium- or long-term issues, or anything that might be considered "strategic." Those issues need to be referred to a more appropriate forum, like your monthly management meeting or a project review meeting. For example, a construction crew site ops meeting might discuss how to reschedule work because a delivery of windows has been delayed. It would not be appropriate for the ops meeting to get into whether or not to find a new window supplier. A senior exec ops meeting agenda might include a reminder that the monthly sales reports need to be submitted by 5 p.m. that day, but the ops meeting is not the place to discuss the format, purpose or effectiveness of the reports.

By the way, here's a tip: If you don't already have an existing forum (like a monthly management meeting) where medium- to long-term issues like those in the previous paragraph can be discussed, don't start a morning ops meeting. It'll get bogged down in those strategic issues (because there's nowhere else for them to go), and the ops meeting will lose its usefulness.

Two other tips on setting the agenda for your morning ops meetings:

  1. Spend a week watching what holds your team up, slows them down, or throws them off balance each day. What communication or operational issues distract confuse them? Make notes, and turn those issues into your rolling agenda.
  2. Ask your team members - what would they like to discuss at the start of each working day? What information do they need from others or do they need to share with others?

How Do I Ensure My Morning Ops Meeting Is Truly Effective?
Apart from the two issues we've already covered (keep it short and focused on the "here-and-now"), here are the top five rules for a truly effective morning ops meeting:

1. Start (and finish) promptly.
Don't wait around for people to arrive - start at the time you set for the meeting. When latecomers roll in, make it a rule that they don't proffer excuses and you don't recap anything. The deal is, if they're late, they miss out on important information. So long as you meeting is focussed on important stuff, very quickly everyone will get the message that they need to be there, or they miss out. You'll find that peer pressure will work on your behalf - the other members of the team will be 'in the loop', the persistent latecomer won't, and that pressure will tell.

2. State facts, no lectures.
Remember, this is an ops meeting, not a town hall meeting. Picture a quarterback, coach and a few key team members deciding on the next play during a time out: cover the salient facts quickly, ask for input from others only where necessary, move on to the next point and get finished on time. This is not the time for a detailed play-by-play review of the tape.

3. Manage input from others.
To stay focused and to complete your meeting in the allotted time, you will need to actively manage input from others, especially in the early days. Some people will mistakenly believe that the meeting is an opportunity for chit-chat about last night's American Idol, the weather or their colleagues. Others (rarely, but it happens sometimes) will try to use it as an opportunity to complain (about all sorts of stuff).

Fortunately, in an ops meeting, the answer to all of this is simple: "This is not the forum for that." - say it when you need to, and say it often. The ops meeting is not an exercise in mentoring or coaching, and you should make that clear (although, as a good manager, you are mentoring and coaching your people elsewhere, right?).

4. Be consistent and regular
It should be self-evident: Ops meetings don't work if they're irregular or inconsistent.

5. Take a monthly reality check
For the first six months or so, ask yourself and each member of your team whether or not the daily ops meetings have been helpful or not. If so, why? If not, why not? If not, make whatever changes are required, and try again. Over three to four months you'll whittle the agenda to the point where it is most effective. After six months are up, shift the 'reality check' to quarterly.

Les McKeown is a writer, speaker, consultant and President & CEO of Predictable Success(R), an organizational development consulting firm based in Marblehead, MA. He is the author of Retaining Top Employees, The Complete Guide to Mentoring and Coaching, The Complete Guide to Orientation & Re-Orientation. For more on employee retention, visit Les' Retention Secrets website.

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