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Make Meetings Count!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Rajit Nair

Long time ago I received a funny email forward, which in summary was making fun of corporate meetings. The most striking phrase on it was “when you’re bored, call for a meeting”. Yes, it is funny, but many of the corporate internal meetings often have a trigger point similar to this.

Some meetings are used as a platform for stretching muscles or malign another employee in front of others or just a “show-off” or drama to ensure that all are listening to the boss. I wonder why such Waste of Time and Effort (WTE) meetings are held!

In my previous article on the Board of Directors (Please read “Bored of Directors!”), I have mentioned that in some corporate Board meetings, agenda or the supporting documents are not circulated prior to the meeting to ‘avoid grilling’ or ‘harassment’ from the attendees. Any meeting, both internal and external without a defined agenda and a written set of goals is a ‘WTE’. Moreover, agenda should be circulated prior to the meeting and ensure that the goals are realistic and achievable. Ad-hoc meetings, is away from the radar of this discussion.

For any meeting there should be a ‘Chairperson’ or a ‘leader’ who either is the meeting requester or the responsible decision-maker assigned to ‘make the meeting count’.

On the onset, the Chairperson or the person who is responsible for the meeting should assess whether such a meeting is indeed required or not. Maybe through emails or through telephone calls, the goals can be realized. Then such a meeting will become a ‘WTE’ as the attendees has to find time to attend, some may have to travel from a different location or may have to stop working on an important assignment that has a tight deadline. In such cases, a meeting called for is not only ‘WTE’ but also a ‘corporate crime’. This is not applicable for meetings where decisions have to be endorsed by attendees after debate as in an ideal Board meeting.

In the modern era, technological advances like video conferencing, give us the luxury to hold meetings even without the on-site presence of the attendees and thereby saving company overheads as well. However, only very few companies use such facilities as most of the executives in other companies either are not technology friendly or just think this is a ‘fad’. Few prefer travel just to avail the fat per-diems and other benefits linked to a company sponsored travel. Again, it requires a major ‘brain drain’ to drain out such anti corporate ideas and infuse a sense of austerity among company executives.

While meeting, some attendees always behave as if they ‘got up from the wrong-side of the bed’. They act like Opposition party members in a State Assembly. Whatever ideas or suggestions forwarded by the other members will be objected, argued and sometimes ridiculed. There are others who will never allow anyone else in the room to talk. They would try to fill the meeting with monologues and expect others to say ‘yes’. Such a person, if encountered with an authoritarian voice will suddenly change track and try to find a way out using the ‘emotional intelligence’ and divert the focus away from the objection. In other situations, such people will confuse the fellow attendees by making statements, which they claim either practiced, by their ‘grandmothers’ or present their stupidity as a quote from a popular book. Beware of such hypocrites in the room, as they are not ‘corporate friendly’ people and they would destroy the very root of the meetings.

As with punctuality, active participation in the discussions is also very important for the success of a meeting. I am sure you have witnessed some attendees preoccupied with their mobile gadgets (BlackBerry or PDA) and if it is a ‘mobile free’ environment, they will try their doodling talents in the scribbling pads. Such acts may be the result of lack of interest in the topic discussed or having the feeling that “ I am above all these” or as a gesture to express his/her displeasure for the meeting or his/her displeasure towards the meeting chairperson or the meeting requester. Such people also should be marked ‘X’ as they also are ‘traitors’ in a corporate setting.

Minutes’ taking is also very important as it records the deliberations and facilitate proper follow-up. As minute taking is an art, a dedicated and diligent person has to be assigned for the job. In Corporate Board meetings, Company Secretary or the Board Secretary would do the job. Again, as the technology advanced, minute taking is now easier than before by using compact recording devices with speech-to-text software.

For a successful outcome or effective problem solving or in situations where ‘clash of titans’ is expected, Dr. Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats is very effective. Appropriate hats (White, Red, Black, Yellow, Green & Blue) facilitate parallel thinking and would produce better results in a very short time devoid of ego clashes. (Popular Book titled “Six Thinking Hats” may give you an introduction to the concept, but seeking assistance from a Certified Six Thinking Hats is preferable).

Even if you come up with a great decision or a sound solution, committed implementation or continuous feedback is required to realize the final fruit of a meeting. Otherwise, even the best or effective meeting will also end up ‘WTE’ and be recorded in the annals of history as an avenue to just meet, eat and quarrel (at times).

Please keep visiting (every week) for more on the series “Fearless or Shameless”.

Kindly post your valuable comments. © stateoftheartconsulting 2009

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