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10 Aug 2017

87. MEETINGS

Meetings are often entirely necessary, but done badly they achieve little, damage morale and eat into people’s valuable time. Here are some aspects to consider when chairing or organising a meeting with staff.

PLAN AND PREPARE

Every meeting should have a clear objective and agenda and, unless it’s an emergency gathering, the agenda should be circulated in advance. This enables attendees to prepare their thoughts and bring any relevant notes or information with them, which will result in a more productive discussion and easier decision making. The process of creating an agenda can also help you to clarify or refine what it is you want to achieve.

GIVE IT STRUCTURE

If you’re chairing a meeting you’re responsible for ensuring that each point of the agenda is covered, so if things steer off course or people become unfocused you’ll need to get things back on track. Meetings commonly overrun when people get stuck debating one or two points or when individuals hog the floor. If this happens, verbally make a note of the sticking point and commit to addressing it on another occasion, perhaps within a smaller group. Close the meeting by recapping any decisions made and with clear next steps for everyone present. No one should leave unsure as to what was achieved and what happens next.

WHO’S WHO?

Who you invite to a meeting can play a big part in how successful it is. When there are too many in the room it becomes intimidating and so people may not voice their thoughts; it then becomes more of a speech than a collaborative process. If the aim of the meeting is to come to decisions ensure that all the relevant decision makers are present and ask attendees to bring with them any information to support or illustrate the key arguments being discussed.

CATCH-UP TIME

Remember that time spent having a meeting is time everyone isn’t doing something else, so don’t call one lightly. One survey found that, on average, people spend four hours a week in status meetings alone, and another 4.6 hours a week preparing for them. An open doors policy may work better than forcing everyone to come together every week. Alternatively, if you are going to have regular catch ups try standing only meetings; they encourage everyone to keep things short and give people a chance to stretch their legs.

VIDEO- AND TELE-CONFERENCING

Telecommunications experts predict that teleconferencing and videoconferencing will become dominant communications tools in the next decade or so, both for business and domestic uses. Already these means of communications are reducing the need for physical travel to meetings, saving time and money, offering convenience and the ability to share digital content and reducing the environmental impact.

Ideal for groups working on projects in disparate locations or who are constantly on the move, teleconferencing and videoconferencing still, however, require many of the same considerations as face-to-face. Timekeeping, structure, who you invite and forward planning are all just as important if you’re to have a successful outcome.

THINK TIME AND SPACE

People hate long meetings, but while it might be tempting to organise a short catch up just to please them, you’ll need to ensure the agenda fits the time slot. Try to cram too much in and your meeting will either overrun or potentially important points will drop off the list. If you don’t want to have an eye on the clock try asking a colleague to prompt you as soon as discussion around a particular point starts to overrun. Schedule a time slot with attendees rather than just a start time so they know what to expect, make sure the space is big enough for everyone invited and keep people sufficiently refreshed.

BIG SCREENS GOOD, SMALL SCREENS BAD

The presence of any technology in your chosen meeting room is something to consider carefully. Ideally the only screen should be the presenter’s, as when people bring phones and tablets into the room they serve as a constant distraction. Surveys have found that as many as 70 per cent of people bring other work into meetings and much of that is likely to be on digital devices. Think too about whether your own Powerpoint or slide show will add to or detract from what you’re saying.

ENERGY SAPPING

Research has found that the more meetings employees attend the more exhausted they feel and the higher they perceive their workloads to be. This is backed up by the work of University of Minnesota psychologist Kathleen Vohs, whose studies show we have finite reserves of ‘executive resources’ - the cognitive ability to process information and make decisions. Vohs and other neuroscientists found that these resources become rapidly depleted in meetings, which is why after too many of them we can be left feeling drained and productivity nosedives.

READ ON

Never one to mince his words, Patrick Lencioni, best known for his book ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’, said, “Bad meetings, and what they indicate and provoke in an organisation, generate real human suffering in the form of anger, lethargy and cynicism.” In ‘Death by Meeting’ he outlines how ineffective meetings can negatively impact on an organisation’s success and offers some advice for giving them more of a wow factor.