There are a number of maxims which sum up the normal business meeting – one tells us that “Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything!” – and of course the well known one – “A meeting is an event where minutes are taken and hours wasted.” And I bet we can all relate to both of them!
But meetings, if well run, can be productive because a group can facilitate solving complex problems much better than a single mind. They can also build commitment to solutions as well as foster a climate of good communication. So why are they generally so badly conducted?
I think it is because meetings are often run for the wrong reasons – and Whetton and Cameron in “Developing Management Skills” suggest the following are not valid reasons to hold a meeting:
· When the information can easily be disseminated by phone or email
· When you have not properly prepared for the meeting
· When the people you need to attend are unable to make it
· When the cost of the meeting is out of proportion to its expected outcome
· When there is no real reason other than it’s regularly scheduled.
If you call a meeting for any of the above reasons you are not only wasting your time, but also to time of everybody who is required to attend, which is unforgivable. So if you are the one that calls the meeting the first consideration is whether it is necessary.
The actual meeting falls into two distinct phases, and both must be considered and planned for to ensure a successful outcome. The First is the ‘Design’ phase and the second the ‘Implementation’.
The hardest part is getting the design phase right, but if you put the time and trouble into this, the implementation phase should be easy. Designing a meeting means considering some critical factors.
Purpose – what do you want the meeting to achieve? Is it to resolve a problem, or an issue? Is it to obtain consensus, or to communicate changes in policy or procedures? The purpose of the meeting must be clear before further planning can take place, because the purpose will determine the participants.
Participants – once the purpose has been made clear, the next decision must be who needs to attend; with the operative word “needs”. Often people seem to be summoned to meetings that really have no reason to be there. When deciding who should attend there must be specific value in their attendance. Their knowledge, skill or position must be critical to the purpose of the meeting.
The size of the meeting is also determined by the purpose of the meeting. Larger groups can be crucial to brain storming sessions; while resolutions of problems may be much smaller. Decide which positions need to be represented, who has the necessary information or resources before settling on the composition of the meeting.
Plan – Next plan how the meeting is to be conducted. This doesn’t just mean ‘issue an agenda’ – it means carefully working out what sort of meeting you will be conducting; what sort of equipment is required and what reports need to be completed for instance. It also means that time and place should be considered. At what time are participants likely to be at their best; it is no use calling an early morning meeting if the production supervisor has to leave undone a necessary process. His mind is never going to be on the meeting discussion.
Consider the format of the meeting, which again will depend on the purpose of the meeting. Are you going to use the ordinary group discussion, will it be a brain storming session or perhaps a nominal group technique (NGT). Having determined this, review your own facilitation techniques; and consider how you will decide consensus.
When all this has been prepared issue your meeting notice, including the agenda and the list of attendees, and any responsibilities for prior preparations – i.e. reports to be submitted, or information to be provided.
Finally we can move into the implementation of the meeting, where all the things you have carefully planned come to fruition. If you have planned the design of your meeting carefully you should not have too much trouble. You should be clear in your own mind as to the purpose and if you keep that in focus, the meeting should run smoothly.
But if you have trouble in the planning or implementation of your business meeting, why not ask Trischel to conduct a half day seminar on the practicality of running business sessions?
Email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Now it’s Friday, so there must be a meeting …. And I’m off to mine!