Is that how you feel about meetings? It certainly reflected my view for much of my management time and influenced the way that I ran meetings myself. And whilst much of the fault lies with the participants, the real blame for a bad meeting lies with the person chairing. Read more…
Meetings are a fact of modern business life; they are one of the catalysts that help move business forward by getting people together sparking ideas, planning strategy and similar dynamic activity, or at least they should be, but all too often they are nothing more than a waste of everyone’s time.
Some of the reasons for meetings failing are in poor planning, preparation, chairing and team issues, but what I want to look at here is the room itself because that is something that facilities teams can influence and make a bigger contribution to business success that we might realise.
Often meeting space is fitted in around the office as best as we can rather than consciously designed and I’ve seen some horrors over the years. As an example, let me first set the scene: We were bidding to win the outsourcing of a service for an international business. On offer was a 3 year deal with options for extension, but the basic contract was worth around £5m. We were invited to present for 40 minutes plus 20 for questions, told we could bring 4 people and use an SVGA presenter. All pretty standard for such a session and we turned up prepared and rehearsed.
We were taken up to the room on an upper floor and on the corner of the building. As the door opened we could see that it was long and narrow. Three tables were end to end down the middle with 6 chairs either side and one at each end, and 11 of these were occupied. The door was in one of the short walls and one long wall and short wall opposite the door were windows through which the low winter sun streamed.
So basic maths will show that there weren’t enough seats, and common sense will tell you that we couldn’t project onto the door with any degree of success and to project on to the one possible wall meant that half the people would have to turn around and, in any case, the sunlight would wash out the slides.
As Bid Director I had covered for not being able to run the presentation; it’s always a risk, so you prepare for it. I’m also used to standing to present, so standing against the door for the hour that we were there was not really an issue even if it was unusual. As for the outcome, well, we got into the final two, so we did OK in difficult circumstances, but what was the point in making use of such a room for the buying team? The people facing the windows were covering their eyes a lot of the time to avoid being blinded and the solar gain was making the room like a sweatbox. We were only there for an hour, but they had five presentations to sit through and debate on, and I would question the quality of the decision making under such conditions of discomfort.
This is an extreme case, but I’ve encountered poor facilities in many offices and hotels that I have visited over the years. The point is that meetings are about human interaction, so having the right sort of space for people to interact in is crucial to making meetings successful. As FMs we can look at providing spaces that can be used flexibly and provide an environment in which people can be productive and contribute.
Decent meeting space is an investment, but it costs about the same to do it right as to do it wrong, so it’s well worth looking at if you can.
I’ve written here before about the alleged demise of the office, but the topic has raised its head again this past week so I’m off again.
We earthlings enjoy a fantastic range of communications devices these days, and we’re a couple of generations away from my early days at work where I would carry change to phone in to the office as and when necessary. Now the science fiction of my youth is a reality and I have a few of these devices at my disposal and am a happy, and fairly prolific, user of them.
The ability to keep in touch and to interact with others remotely has changed the way that we work, but that isn’t new; it’s just the natural process of evolution. The pace may vary, but change is constant.
The office as I have known it is a relatively new thing in terms of human history, and it has changed a lot in my time. At the end of the day it is a tool and we will adapt it as we need to. One of the buildings that I once managed is now an easyOffice and part of Stelios’ new venture. It still exists, which is more that can be said for some of the other flagships of my old 1990s empire; one has been demolished and an apartment complex now stands on the site, another has just been demolished and a third has been gutted and the shell absorbed into an industrial building. My team and I used to look after over 3000 people in those three offices and they were all key parts of the organisations that we worked on behalf of.
But we changed them radically over the time that we ran them and had them in a constant state of flux as the tenant businesses needs changed. There may have been an illusion of permanence, but it was only an illusion. The illusion is in the minds of the people though; the building is just a convenient place. Those of us who have managed big workplaces will know how lonely and dead they are when empty.
When people come together they can fill a space with their life and energy, and those provide a synergy that no amount of remote working or cloud collaboration can replace. The challenge for us within the industry is to provide those spaces, but in what form?
I remember the first Regus office locally and being very interested because they were doing on the open market what I was trying to do for an internal market. There was a time when it looked as though they wouldn’t make it, but the financial model has worked and others have followed, as with easyOffice in our old floors at Palmerston House, and all power to them for that.
Coffee bars, hotel lobbies, supermarket cafeterias and motorway services are all playing their part as alternative places to meet, but the thing that intrigues me is that there is still so much focus on city centres. With all of the moves away from pinning us down to the daily grind of going in to the office, most cities are working towards transport and infrastructure plans that are based on sizeable growth over the next 10-30 years. That implies that we will still have these great hives of activity for a long time to come.
Will we push the market, or will the market pull us? I don’t know that I have the answers right now, but it sure is a fascinating time to be in the industry isn’t it?
It may come as a surprise to some that I spent most of Friday morning watching the Royal Wedding coverage on BBC. I didn’t watch it all, but had the TV on from about 0730 and finally turned my back on it after the fly past (which, prior to the day, was the only thing that I was interested in).
So what got my attention? Not the hats nor the dresses, nor, although I do love it, the pageantry. No, it was the organisation.
I grew up organised, even if I didn’t realise it for until well into adulthood, but my father was a gardener by profession and his bible was the Raeder’s Digest Gardener’s Year. He would pore over this time a couple of times a week, making his plans for the next 3-4 weeks and comparing where he was against his plan. He was never formally taught project management, but learned it along the way.
In similar vein my mother was a professional cook, and whereas Dad would be planning his projects in weeks and months, Mum would be planning in hours as she would juggle all the elements to land each course of the meal just when it needed to be served, regardless of whether it was a light meal for one or a banquet for a hundred. For both it was all about being organised and organising others.
Maybe then it was natural that I would end up working in areas where organisation and planning were crucial. From teenage work on the farm to my early days in retail and wholesale logistics through running M&E tenders to computer programming and IT project, corporate strategic planning, logistics management running big sheds and on to FM the one key thing that kept me climbing the ladder was that I got things done, and that came, directly, from organisation and planning. Perhaps it was truly bred into me.
Coming back to the Royal Wedding I was sat with the Berkshire Belle enjoying a mug of tea and watching the crowds enjoying themselves when the timetable for the event came up (the Wonder of Wokingham herself is an ace planner; she used to manage distributions for the largest retail network in Europe). One of the experts on TV was asked about the time that the Royal couple would emerge onto the balcony, and said that it would be between 1315 and 1325 as they wouldn’t want to miss the fly past at 1330.
Now this was before 9 and we got to speculating on the organisation that went into an event like this and what it would take to pull it off over the course of the day, and that was what really got me riveted. Later in the programme Sir Malcolm Ross gave some insight into how they did things and I have enormous professional respect for the likes of him and those who put these events together.
As an FM I have been involved in all sorts of special events, including conferences and Royal and VIP visits and know what those take, so the sheer scale of something like Friday’s wedding fills me with awe, but also with pride. In the UK we know how to do these things and to pull them off with such élan.
We have the advantage of Royalty, tradition and venues, but that would be so easy to waste. The eyes of the world were on the UK last week and they were treated to a fantastic spectacle of pageantry that ran like clockwork. To those who made it happen, I salute you.
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.