Home > Leadership, The Monday Musings Column > are meetings the bane of your life?

are meetings the bane of your life?

They certainly can be; the difference between a well run one and a poorly run one is like night and day, but what makes the difference?

The person chairing, or leading, the meeting is the key, but chairing the meeting is just one part of the whole deal. For me the issue is that so many people see the meeting as an entity in its own right rather than as an integral part of the process of making things happen.

So often the meeting becomes just an event that gets put in the diary and you get on with life in between the last one and the next one with no real connection. The agenda will turn up, maybe with some additional material, a few days before the meeting date and then you all turn up and go through the motions. More than a few will be ill prepared, not have read the papers or reports before the meeting, and those present will stagger through as best as they can. Where things haven’t gone right or deadlines have been missed there will be a few apocryphal stories trotted out, and everyone will want to chuck in their own version and, if the chair isn’t fully in control, there might be a bit of finger pointing to deflect blame. At best there might be an action to have got it done by the next meeting, but no-one will remember that until the agenda and minutes are circulated just before the next meeting, so it won’t be too much of a problem if people just ignore the whole thing. So you dispose of the coffee and biscuits and vanish until the next one comes round.

I’m being harsh maybe, and certainly cynical, but I’m pretty sure that some of you will recognise roughly that scenario. It is a composite of many that I have had to go through over the years. And they still continue, often even at board level, so goodness knows what meetings at those companies are like lower down the chain.

One factor that causes this problem is that people often don’t know how to make decisions. You may say that that is a daft thing to say, but it is true nonetheless; the ability to make decisions, or at least decent decisions, is sadly lacking in many organisations.

One of the worst excesses I have come across is the monthly review meeting. Everyone submits their departmental report, so all those at the meeting should have read it and be aware of how the others are doing. If there are any problems then they should be prepared to bring them up, but what happens? Everyone goes through their report at the meeting regardless and nothing really gets moved forward.

Meetings are part of moving things along, so they need to be treated as a point where the key people involved come together to resolve issues, so the first thing to be doing is making sure that the meeting is about the issues. What needs to be done, by whom and by when and what resource is needed to accomplish it. If people are armed with facts and not anecdotes they will be able to assess these points, agree on the risks of failure (so that the priorities can be understood) and make an appropriate decision. Job done; next issue, and do the same there.

At a project meeting last week we came prepared. Papers circulated had been read, the issues were discussed and we were agreed on who was doing what and by when and done in 30 minutes.

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