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EFFECTIVE MEETINGS: Put On Your Yellow Hat and Decrease Meeting Time by 50%

3ce1b07Guestblogger: Leslie S. Schreiber, M. Ed, is owner of Schreiber Training, a corporate training company designed to decrease stress and increase productivity through improved workplace communication skills.


Businesses acknowledge the necessity of meetings but struggle with how to make them efficient and meaningful. By implementing a model called “parallel thinking”, meeting time can be reduced by up to 50%.

“I’d like you to attend meeting X,” says your boss. “We really need you at meeting Y,” your co-worker requests. “Can you meet with us about Z?” asks the committee for which you’re volunteering.

Enter eye roll. Deep sigh. Slumped resignation. The scheduling game begins.

yellow-hat-manSound familiar? Meetings take up a significant amount of our time at work. When I ask clients about their meetings, I often hear groans of: “too long,” “lack of direction,” “no action items,” “repetitive,” or “too many tangents.”

When I ask about the cost of their meetings, I get a perplexed and puzzled look.

Let’s assume a weekly two-hour meeting involves a sales manager, marketing manager, a finance manager, and two operation supervisors. If their average hourly wage is $30, that’s $300 per meeting; $1,200 a month for a total of over $14,000 a year!

Yikes! Meetings cost money. And, of course, meetings also cut into our productivity from doing our jobs.

Six Thinking Hats® is a meeting management tool proven to reduce meeting time by up to 50 percent. It harnesses parallel thinking as well as individual process time, group brainstorming, and applying action items. Developed by Edward de Bono, M.D. in 1985, over 400,000 people have been trained and implemented this model.

WHITE HAT Neutral, objective thinking, concerned with facts
RED HAT Emotional, intuitive thinking
BLACK HAT Skeptical, negative, critical thinking
YELLOW HAT Sunny, positive, optimistic thinking
GREEN HAT Creative, innovative thinking
BLUE HAT Cool, organized, summarized thinking

So, how does it work? Let’s go back to our two-hour meeting mentioned earlier.  This meeting involves the optimistic sales manager, the creative marketing manager, the fact driven finance manager, a process oriented operation supervisor, and a critical curmudgeon (i.e. “I’ve been working here for 20 years and I know that won’t work…”) supervisor.

Parallel thinking during this meeting is when everyone thinks in the same way at the same time. So instead of the inherent conflict between people caused by their own agendas and personality types, time is spent pooling ideas, rather than defending them.

In a Six Hats meeting, all participants “wear” the same hat at the same time.  For example, a Process Improvement agenda could look something like this:

Focus: We need to reduce our time from order to delivery.

Outcome: At least five new ideas to help us reduce our time from order to delivery.

White Hat:  Review the current process. (5 minutes)

Yellow Hat: What’s working well with the process? (10 minutes)

Black Hat:  What are the weaknesses in the process? (10 minutes)

Green Hat: Generate ideas to overcome the weaknesses. (25 minutes)

Red Hat:  Choose the best five ideas. (3 minutes)

Blue Hat: What do we need to do, by when? (7 minutes)

Everyone participates equally because the first few minutes in each hat is spent individually and silently writing down responses on 3X5 sticky notes. Then a go-around report occurs as the sticky notes are posted on flip charts, the wall, or somewhere visible. These remain visible the entire meeting.

Wow – only a 60-minute meeting! Our typical two-hour meeting has just been reduced to only one hour. Five new, thoroughly examined ideas are ready for action. Each person participated and their strengths exemplified. Plus, the remaining information from the meeting is captured on sticky notes. And, like any tool, the more familiar people are in using it, the easier it becomes to reduce meeting time even more.

By thinking in parallel, time is reduced, money is saved, everyone is involved in the process, and more ideas are generated.

When you next find yourself wanting to say to that critical curmudgeon: “Don’t be so negative,” why not simply say, “What’s your yellow hat thinking on that?”

For more on 6 Thinking Hats be sure to check out Leslie’s new article by downloading it here.


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