I Like Ike

General Dwight David EisenhowerAlthough business is not usually like war, in that nobody gets shot in meetings, the business world can learn a lot from our military.  Let’s take a lesson from General, later President, Dwight David Eisenhower that can help us reduce the number and duration of meetings.

Consider using The Eisenhower Brief as a way of structuring your conversations and (quick) meetings.

The story I’ve heard is that Eisenhower, being an organized military man, required a one page summary during a briefing.  The top third contained the problem or hypothesis, the middle third summarized possible courses of action and the bottom third covered the recommendation that the team had assembled. (Full credit to the great Denny Hatch who published this a few years ago and gave me the idea.  I can’t find the original article, but you should read his blog here.)

This ingenious document forced the team to:

  1. Succinctly describe the problem
  2. Quickly cover the possible options
  3. Develop consensus on the best solution

The enforcement of brevity ensured that the briefers had truly done their homework and hashed things out before coming in to talk with the top guy.

I used this at a very large previous employer and found that it cut about three hours of meetings out of my day.  You couldn’t meet with me unless you had the document prepared–and a lot of meetings never actually happened.  The use of this forcing mechanism resulted in a lot of problems being solved by the team before having to involve me or the problems weren’t worth spending time figuring out how to describe them.

The meetings also got a lot shorter.  With everybody prepared, we could focus on ensuring that the right range of options was considered and that the team didn’t miss any issues.  And because they’d done the work, rarely did we have an issue.

The bonus was that I could carry around these one-pagers and have key issues at my fingertips.  Great for staving off those “what did we ever do about….” questions from the boss.  And if she needed something in hard copy, I’d pull it out of my binder and hand it off.  Done.

Takeaway: Think about using a one-page briefing system for your projects.  See the attached template.

Eisenhower Brief Template1

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