Innovation Extracts provides a quick look at current thought regarding leadership and management of planning and improvement initiatives.

If you have any questions or comments about what you read here, or if you would like to suggest items for future Innovation Extracts, please contact Barbara Sherlock, Senior Planning and Improvement Associate in the Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment, at 814-863-8721 or

Quality Endeavors Issue No. 154 December 2012

John E. Tropman, Making Meetings Work: Achieving High Quality Group Decisions

John Tropman begins his book by pointing out that while people often think of meetings as a ‘sinkhole’ of lost and wasted time; they are actually a key part of the machinery and functioning of an organization. He then provides seven principles and 14 commandments that can be used to have more effective meetings.

Tropman’s book, Making Meetings Work: Achieving High Quality Group Decisions (1996. Sage Publications) is drawn from research done at the University of Michigan as part of the Meeting Masters Research Project in conjunction with the 3M Meetings Management Institute. It is based on observations of ‘meeting masters’ at for profit, non-profit, and government organizations in the United States and Canada. Meeting masters ran effective meeting with four characteristics:

  • Accomplishment
  • Little decision rework
  • Good decisions
  • Enjoyment and involvement

In his seven principles, Tropman identifies three types of components of meetings: announcements, decisions, and discussions. He proposes a structure for meetings in which the first 1/6 of the meeting time is spent on easy items such as review of the minutes and announcements, the middle 2/3 is spend on harder items such as decisions, starting with the easy decisions and working up to the most difficult, and the last 1/6 of the meeting time is spent on discussions where no decision is needed and other easier items.

Tropman uses the analogies of an orchestra and a dinner to demonstrate his principles and commandments and show how to make meetings more effective. For example, an orchestra practices and prepares before presenting a concert (and meetings require preparation and communication among the attendees). The conductor leads the orchestra through a musical piece, but without the orchestra there would be no music (all contribute). The orchestra announces what it will play in advance and prepares for that (the agenda). They do not ask the audience what they would like to hear (the equivalent of adding new items or new business to the agenda at the start of a meeting, or otherwise not respecting the integrity of the agenda with regard to topics and time.). At a dinner party, the host has done the preparation work in advance, and is available to devote full attention to guests at the dinner. If guests are bringing food, the host knows in advance who is bringing what, so that the dinner is balanced (those responsible for items on the agenda know what is expected of them). If one is going out for dinner, there is enough information on the menu (the agenda) so that individuals know what they are ordering (and what they need to do to be prepared for the meeting).

Some specific recommendations for more effective meetings are included, among them:

  • For reports or read-ahead material, send just an executive summary in advance and send the entire document only when requested
  • Present alternatives and recommendations, not just one alternative for a yes/no decision
  • In making a decision, consider who will be impacted, who has expertise, and whether anyone has veto power
  • To improve meetings, ask attendees for feedback in three areas: what to keep, what to stop, and what to start

Quality Endeavors Issue No. 152 October 2012

Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work

A lot has been written about internal and external motivation of workers. Many lists of possible external rewards and recognitions have been developed. In The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work (2011, Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, MA) Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer detail their research to learn more about internal motivation.

Amabile and Kramer define ‘inner work life’ as a dynamic state of an individual’s mind that is the result of “…perceptions, emotions, and motivations that individuals experience as they react to and make sense of the events of their workday.” (p. 20) Perception involves making sense of the actions of others and the organization, possibly in light of past experiences. Emotion can be pleasant or unpleasant, and mild or intense. Motivation includes the decision to work on a task, the amount of effort to expend, and the drive to persist on the task.

The researchers analyzed daily e-mail diaries from 238 knowledge workers involved in projects of about four months in duration, at seven companies in three industries. Workers were asked to provide their perceptions, emotions, motivations, and an event that stood out for the day.

The analysis led to what Amabile and Kramer call the Progress Principle: “of all the positive events that influence inner work life, the single most powerful is progress in meaningful work; of all the negative events, the single most powerful is the opposite of progress – setbacks in the work.” (p. 76-77) They encourage supervisors to establish work processes that enable workers to see progress resulting from work in a timely manner. They also identify catalysts, actions that enable progress; inhibitors, actions that limit progress; nourishing actions such as interpersonal respect; and toxins such as discouragement or neglect of workers. Seven catalysts are identified:

  1. Clear goals and priorities
  2. Autonomy and opportunity for creativity in how to do the job
  3. Resources needed to do the job efficiently and effectively
  4. Time – more than for a crisis deadline, but less than that indicating the work doesn’t matter
  5. Help as needed from supervisors and coworkers
  6. Systematically learning from problems and successes
  7. Sharing of information and allowing ideas to flow

Amabile and Kramer propose that at the end of each day, supervisors complete a daily progress assessment. What progress was made and what were the setbacks? What catalysts and inhibitors were present? Interpersonally, were there nourishing actions or toxins? Based on the answers, what observations can be made about the perceptions, emotions, and motivations contributing to the inner work life of subordinates? Finally, what is the action plan for tomorrow to facilitate progress?




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