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Making meetings better

V – so what’s new this month?

A – the thing that struck me was the number of meetings that were a waste of time or not as effective as they could be.

M – Oh same old, same old.  If only the rest of the world was as skilled and knowledgeable as you, our problems would be solved!

A – Thanks for that.  But really, no, this was thinking what I need to do and I don’t mean to be critical of others.  For instance, one, perhaps the worst, meeting was chaired by someone who is a volunteer, taking on the chair’s job when no-one else would and never pretending this was her forte.  So although chairing was an issue, I don’t regard it as her ‘fault’.

V – OK, so what point did you want to make.

A – when I’ve looked at this before, I’ve implicitly assumed that the solution lies in knowing what to do (preparing well, having the right meeting processes etc.).  But if I already know what needs doing – and before you say it, Mal, that’s standard good practice, nothing special about me – why am I still going to meetings that are a waste of time?

V – didn’t you suggest before that you wouldn’t go to a meeting without an agenda?

A – yes, and I’ve totally ignored that.  At least one meeting this month had no agenda, but it sounded intriguing and I only heard about it a day or two in advance so there wasn’t really time to do more.  As it happens, it was mainly information giving and I didn’t learn much knew, but it probably wouldn’t have helped even if I had had an agenda.

Also if it’s one of a regular series of meetings, it’s hard to not turn up just because there doesn’t happen to be an agenda one time.

M – so what’s the answer?  What should you be doing to make meetings better?

A – these are just initial thoughts, but essentially this is just a particular example of how the group achieves anything: it’s just that in this case the focus is back on itself rather than doing something externally.  So the group needs to work out how to make itself better.  But what makes this issue potentially more difficult is that you are implicitly criticising the chair and perhaps the secretary and other committee members.

M – so your fabled people skills come to the fore.

A – not really my greatest strengths, to be honest.  But at least having thought about it, now, I might not be quite so bad.  I won’t, for instance, just write to the chair saying I’m not coming because there’s no agenda.

M – as you had been thinking before.

V – so any idea what you will do?

A – Ideally raise it in advance with the chair and possibly others.  Though just throwing it out there in a meeting might seem less threatening, as if it’s something I’ve just thought of.

The second thing is the nature of the message and the way it’s packaged.  Without being dishonest about it, it may be more palatable to say ‘I’ve come across some good practice that might help us be even more efficient’ than to say ‘I’m worried our meetings aren’t very effective and we need to improve the way they’re chaired’.

V – hmm, I see what you’re saying, but it’s a tricky one to get right.

A – Indeed.  Then I suppose there’s all the other ways of influencing people – seeing things from their point of view, acknowledging their opinions, appealing to emotion as much as setting out factual arguments.  I’ll have to go back over the notes from all the assertiveness and inter-personal relationship courses I’ve been on.

M – I don’t mean to be critical here-

A – perish the thought!

M – -but all you seem to have said is that to make meetings better you just have to persuade the participants to improve.

A – OK, it’s not a Nobel prize winning proposition, but I think it is an important insight that I’d previously missed and about which I can now do more thinking and research.

V – OK, thanks for that, and perhaps we’ll hear more about it in future.

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