Meeting Management: Let's Cut to the ChaseBy: Greg Giesen
I teach meeting management courses, have read most (if not all) the books on the topic, I facilitate meetings for clients on countless occasions and even play the role of critical evaluator for client meetings (sometimes whether they want it or not). Now, if I can say I'm from out of town, doesn't this make me an expert on meeting management?
Okay, maybe not, but I do think it's time for a reality check on the topic. I may not be a big stickler for formality in meetings, but I do believe that meetings need to provide a purpose and serve as an effective tool in meeting that purpose. Unfortunately, I'm finding that purposeful, well-run meetings are quickly becoming the exception to the rule in organizations today. Allow me to unfairly generalize (again) for a moment here. I see leaders (untrained in facilitation skills) leading (not facilitating) their meetings and never asking for feedback on their meetings. I also see meeting participants looking like zombies during the meetings yet suddenly finding the energy to complain about the meetings after the meetings. The worst part is, I'm seeing very little being done to change any of this.
Why do we allow unproductive meetings to go on in our organizations anyway? Probably the biggest reason is ignorance. That's right. Meeting leaders are assuming their meetings are working just fine, particularly since no one is complaining directly to them about the meetings. The meeting participants, on the other hand, tend to believe that it is not their place to criticize how a meeting is being run, especially if it's their leader's meeting. Hence, unproductive meetings can easily become a way of life in a given organization.
Here are some other reasons as to why we allow unproductive meetings: 1) In the scheme of things, meeting management issues are not a top priority for most people, let alone a perceived responsibility. 2) There is an advantage to a known entity (be it dysfunctional) over an unknown entity. At least meeting participants know what to expect and can bring in work to do during the real dysfunctional parts. 3) No one is quite sure what a productive meeting looks like.
Given the reality of the situation, I've come to the conclusion that we can narrow all this Meeting Management 101 criteria down to just three critical components that are a must for meetings. That's all, just three! In fact, just doing the first component could make all the difference in the world in meetings everywhere. So, I beg of you, please, please incorporate these into your organization, your culture and most importantly, into your meetings from now on. The future of meetings greatly depend upon it.
A poor Opening will set the stage for a poor meeting. Take the time to open your meetings with the suggestions above and you will notice immediate improvements.
I have found that the group dynamics component is probably the least addressed in meetings today. In my opinion, this is partly due to a leader/facilitator's uneasiness in addressing interpersonal issues plus a general lack in facilitation skills. Of course the meeting participants are not off the hook here either. They are as responsible for the dynamics of their meetings as is the leader/facilitator.
Probably the easiest way to create productive meeting behaviors, while eliminating dysfunctional ones, is through the establishment of behavioral norms for meetings. These are essentially group expectations on HOW the group needs to work together during the meetings. A code of conduct, if you will. Here's an example of a meeting norm:
"All participants must come prepared and be on time to meetings."
Norms provide the necessary framework for the meetings that enable participants to focus their attention more on the tasks at hand and less on who is doing what to whom in the meeting. Norms also provide a justification for holding the group accountable to the agreed upon rules of engagement. As one meeting participant said to me once, "I am much more inclined to remind my group of a norm we are not following now since we all agreed to do that in the first place with each other."
In summary, I do realize that there is more to having effective meetings that just the three components I've identified in this article. However, I also believe that these three components are by far the most important factors in establishing an environment for productive meetings. Once in place, I encourage each organization to further enhance their meetings with additional Meeting Management 101 enhancements. Until then, happy meetings!
© Copyright 2007, Greg Giesen
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