The Madness of Meetings

Mar 6, 2011   //   by admin   //   Blog  //  No Comments

Does your heart leap with joy when you see a meeting scheduled in your diary? Chances are, the answer is “No”. And you just trudge along to meetings because you “have to”.


Pre-historic Stuff

Cave drawings show that man, essentially a social animal, has been doing things in groups since prehistoric times. Like hunting. Fighting. A spot of sacrifice. Now all that sort of group activity took a bit of planning. So presumably, Stone Age man had meetings.

A meeting culture – one hour or else…

There was one golden rule in a large manufacturing company that I worked in. Meetings could only last one hour. Ever. If you couldn’t get your business done in one hour, you had to go back to work and schedule another meeting. This had the effect of focusing everybody’s mind, and people learned to keep their contributions relevant and concise. Meetings could be, (ahem), lively, but they were never tedious and irrelevant. Meetings got the job done. Short, relevant meetings became part of the culture of the company.


Last year when delivering a team building course to a business group, we came to the miserable subject of meetings. Everybody’s shoulders drooped when I asked “Do you enjoy meetings? Clearly, they hated meetings. Their own meetings. Hated them.


We’ve all been there. Meetings that drone on and on without purpose. People hogging the floor and making tedious and irrelevant points until you almost lose the will to live. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we have meetings? Madness. And why have our modern meetings become so tedious? (Possibly  the life and death nature of prehistoric meetings kept everybody on their toes.)


The Purpose of Meetings

Within the business group that I mentioned, they admitted that they neither looked forward to nor enjoyed meetings. Yet they did not want to forego meetings altogether because, (they decided):
The purpose of meetings is to plan actions, keep focusstrengthen the group, reviewachievements and to solve problems.
The group agreed a simple set of rules to govern their meetings to make the meetings effective and to remove the tedium. Crucially, they gave the Chair and Secretary permission to enforce these rules. Ruthlessly.
I haven’t been present at their subsequent meetings, but I can confirm that this group successfully delivered on each and every one of their 2010 objectives.

Top 6 MeetingsTips

 Tip Why it might work for your meetings


1. Meeting Triggers Decide why you ever need to have a meeting and only have meetings when you need to, i.e. decide to have a meeting when a particular type of event happens or if there needs to be a time to trigger a meeting.
2. Agenda There should always be an agenda for a meeting, circulated in advance. It doesn’t have to be lengthy, bullet points in an email or even a text might suffice.
3. The Chair The Chair should manage the meeting time and contributions. The Chair should maintain order so that the group sticks to the agenda, that decisions are reached and so that everybody gets to leave the meeting on relatively good terms with everybody else.
4. Decisions Decide how decisions are going to be made before there is an important one. Does the chair have a vote, is consensus desirable, is a majority required?
5. Time Meetings should start on time, and just as importantly, finish on time. Meeting should have a duration and not be an open-ended event. There should be a timekeeper to keep reminding people of the time remaining. And of the need to just get on with it.
6. Minutes Minutes should be brief, and cover all agenda points. There is rarely any need to record all the debate, and who has time to read all that stuff anyway? Actually, with a bit of clever design, a meeting template can be developed to serve the function of both agenda and minutes.

There are many other points that you could incorporate, such as attendance, late arrivals, apologies, communications, agenda setting and so forth. However it is best to keep the rules simple. The important thing is to get consensus about the rules from the outset, so that people understand and respect the meeting format and each other.

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