Make your meetings matter

By Russell Bell

There has been a lot of talk about meetings lately. They are a staple of modern business and not-for-profit organisations. Meetings have long been utilised to get things done and be a great mechanism for communication - with a view to spurring decisions and actions to achieve objectives.

Unfortunately, along the way the humble meeting got hijacked by inefficiencies and ineffectiveness and became a "waste creator".

Why has this come to pass? If you are looking for the answer, your first port of call should be the imperfect vessels that are human beings.

Too many times I have seen meetings disintegrate because participants get the "blah blahs" - where people do a lot of talking but actually say nothing. When I get caught in these situations it is as if the teacher from Charlie Brown is speaking.

I have also been to some meetings where they are nothing more than a vehicle for the creation and distribution of bovine scatology. One of the all-time lows was two hours listening to someone try to justify the merger of two departments with the spin- doctored "1+1=3" nonsense. The cost of that exercise, including flights, meals and accommodation in Wellington, was incredible against the minimal value which was created.

By the way, I still can't get that maths to work.

Another meeting type which tends to be less than effective is the "lunchtime" meeting. Invariably important business is subsumed because it "gets in the way of a good feed" or participants' only preparation for the meeting is wondering whether or not they are going to serve the chicken madras with the basmati rice.

But at other times, meetings can be a powerful medium within which to strategise and make important decisions. You should also regularly review with your staff the effectiveness of meetings and the value that they are creating for the organisation. And you should only change your meeting approach if it creates more value for the organisation, rather than for individuals.

A common statement made at the conclusion of meetings is "that was a waste of time" - given time is so precious, why wouldn't you employ effective techniques to preserve and be more effective with such an important asset? Like all things there needs to be buy in to make this happen but I have successfully helped businesses employ lean techniques to revolutionise their meetings and make better use of time and energies. If you combine the skills of your team with better meeting techniques you will make better decisions and be better informed.

Some 'best practice' meeting tips:

  • A defined and relevant purpose (preferably to make decisions) - remember that a meeting and a "workshop" are completely different things

  • A clear agenda with a defined start and conclusion time

  • The key people are in attendance

  • The appropriate level of documentation provided ahead of the meeting (all material information provided up front)

  • Participants have read and understood their papers

  • An effective chair

  • Accountability for actions agreed upon in the meeting (with follow up)

  • Always maintaining the focus and not getting distracted

Zenith Solutions is a Wanganui-based management consulting practice. It specialises in providing strategic planning, business process improvement and financial management services. Contact or phone 021-244-2421.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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