Making Meaningful Meetings

Written by Joe Driscoll

November 17, 2009

Can we talk? Yes, but……..

Technology has created a communications revolution Despite the various technologies that have contributed to the development of FAX messages, voice mail, and desktop publishing, the “meeting” remains the central arena for business communications.

You never hear anyone say, “I don’t spend enough time in meetings” but everybody looks for another meeting to solve the next problem. You sometimes hear “That was a great meeting”, but that’s in reference to a single incident, the exception rather than the rule.

Improve the quality of your meetings and you will increase productivity, improve communications, and enhance time management. Note that the objective is too improve the QUALITY of the meetings, not increase the QUANTITY of the meetings or the time spent in meetings.

The normal reaction when meetings are prescribed as an antidote to a communications problem is short term relief. However, the typical overdose of more or longer meetings often results in a hangover that in many cases is more damaging than the original symptoms.

When two people get together and talk it’s a conversation. When it involves more than two, it’s a meeting. While necessary, meetings, by definition, are a problem. If you are meeting, you can’t be working and profit making organizations require that work be done to earn a profit. A meeting thus becomes the true embodiment of a necessary evil.

Meetings are often plagued by the participants assuming their stereotypical roles within the company. Instead of a free exchange of ideas, these meetings continue to be instant replays. The opinions expressed and the results generated will become all to familiar. Each participant assumes their role and plays their part on cue.

What tools are in the managers arsenal to deal with this evil creature called the meeting? Necessary evil that it is, can it be managed so as to be effective when needed and eliminated when not?

There a number of planning tools that can make for more meaningful meetings. First, have a specific purpose for the meeting. While it would appear that there are a variety of reasons for calling a meeting, there is really only one reason for a meeting – to improve the profit making capacity of the business. If you aren’t sure that a meeting directly furthers the goals of your business, don’t have it.

Once a specific purpose for a meeting has been established, a concrete agenda must be written and distributed. It is not uncommon to suffer through a meeting in which the participants appear to each have their own agenda, saying what they came to say rather than speaking to the relevant points at the moment.

Location becomes a key tactical issue in establishing effective meetings. If you are the boss and you want your people to feel free in expressing their views, don’t hold the meeting in your office. They will be too accustomed to your dominant position in the “lion’s den”.

If you want to focus your management’s attention on long term strategic issues, move the meeting to a remote location where the participants won’t be conditioned to react to the daily demands of the business. If the subject of a meeting is to deal with problems concerning inventories or supplies, don’t be afraid to convene the meeting on the warehouse floor.

The timing of your meeting will set the rhythm for all that follows. The fact that breakfast meetings have grown in popularity is not an accident. Getting people’s attention before they are encumbered with their routine responsibilities is a key to unlocking fresh ideas. Depending on the specific purpose of the meeting, different times will be most appropriate.

It would appear obvious that choosing of the participants is an important decision in the organizing of any meeting. Equally important and perhaps often overlooked, is the importance of insuring that each of the participants knows of their importance to the success of the meeting. In order to maximize their contribution, they must know why they are there and what they are uniquely qualified to contributed. If your meeting is stocked with redundant participants as so often is the case, it will degenerate to an ineffective, repetitious and redundant event.

The leader must recognize that they are responsible for the meeting. They have called it for a specific purpose. They must plan to use all the tactical tools available to them to make for a meeting that accomplishes that purpose. Because its your business, make for meaningful meetings.

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