Our Love/Hate Relationship With Meetings

Coming across this today, I can only imagine that every editor of a business section of any published content has a yearly reminder to put in an article about meetings.

What it comes down to are several sometimes contradictory feelings that employees have:

  1. I want to have lots of communication in my organization.
  2. I get too much e-mail.
  3. I go to too many meetings.
  4. I hate meetings because:
    • They are hopelessly inefficient.
    • I have other more pressing things to do.

The articles are usually written from the point of view of the put upon employee and focus on how to eliminate meetings.  I’d like to take a different take.  What can a leader do to execute better meetings?

Be Thoughtful of Who to Invite.  Meeting invites should not be about status. Rather, they should include those who can provide useful ideas and insights to the rest of the group.  If someone comes and does not think he can contribute, don’t invite him to the next one.  If someone else hears about the meeting and thinks she can contribute, invite her to the next one.

Set a Good Agenda.  Sending out an agenda before a meeting is a no brainer (and can help people determine if they should attend, per above). Better agendas include action words (e.g., Discuss project X; Decide on project Y) to help guide the conversation.  Also, they estimate how much time will be allocated for each topic.  This ensures that all important topics are addressed in the meeting.

Be the Best Facilitator Possible.  Meetings can be inefficient (or worse) because they go off on tangents, one person dominates the conversation, decisions don’t get made, etc.  Meeting leaders who can manage the process better get the most out of their groups.  These skills are not hard to acquire. Extra tip: Rotate which of the group members facilitates the meeting. It provides a different perspective of the group’s processes.

Get All Ideas on the Table. Some people choose to defer to others in meetings for a variety of reasons.  Good meeting leaders set the expectation that everyone with relevant ideas participates and draws out those who are not sharing.

Summarize Decisions and Action Steps.  No one should ever leave a meeting wondering, “So what’s next?”  Meeting leaders should be clear in their language about what has been decided.  This allows others to either object or agree.

We cannot say we have to have better communications AND fewer meetings.  However, we can have better meetings and better communications.

Lost Communication and the Death of Process

The business world is both transient and stable.  People and priorities change, but as long as the organization is in existence it has processes that continue on.  When the information gets disseminated is becomes institutional knowledge.  We often connect this with an individual (When Maria leaves we are in trouble because she has so much institutional knowledge.), but keeping this information available improves the understanding of processes throughout the enterprise.
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But, how we speak about things changes over time.  For instance, organizational commitment became employee satisfaction, which became employee engagement.  There are subtle differences between them, but what we have always been talking about is, “How much do people want to be here and contribute?”  Yet, if we did not have records about how we understood these concepts we would have some difficulty understanding how and why we conduct (or don’t conduct) employee surveys.

The challenge is how to keep track of the amount of information that organizations generate and keep it in an update language that makes sense as the business changes.  For instance, in my practice it is normally takes quite a bit of communication and presentations to keep validated testing programs going when there is a change in HR leadership.

Perhaps a more interesting example is outlined in this article, which describes how a group of volunteers are taking handwritten letters to reconstruct the English language during Shakespeare’s time.  You may say that 400 years is much longer than any business organization has been around, but think about the rapid changes in computer languages and how important understanding the “old” ones are in maintaining or updating systems.  The archaic can be useful

What potentially gets lost over time and change in language are the research and reasons for doing things.  We lose the ability to answer the most basic of business questions, “Why are we doing this?  Why are we doing it this way?”  Being able to communicate the answers those questions allows for adapting processes when the environment changes and prevents reinventing the wheel.

 

 

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