Meeting Management and Group Character Development

Article excerpt

Although managers spend nearly 75% of their time in meetings, this organizational rite is often neglected as a lever for work process improvement and group character development (Johann, 1994; Tropman, 1996a). In addition, few leaders are trained to chair group meetings; they learn to run meetings from prior experiences and seldom receive feedback to develop superior meeting management skills (Tropman, 1996b; Bottorff, 1997) This is particularly troublesome for total quality organizations that rely upon Pareto charts and other improvement tools to identify statistically critical areas for organizational performance enhancement, but overlook group meetings as process improvement opportunities (Lindsey and Petrick, 1997). Leaders who use quality processes to enhance the effectiveness of meetings not only reduce inefficiency and avoid groupthink, but also strengthen group character - the collective readiness to act ethically (Petrick and Quinn, 1997; Sims, 1992).

It is the absence of implemented quality processes and group character development that often aggravate workplace stress (Cartwright and Cooper, 1997). The two purposes of this article, therefore, are: (1) to apply the quality process of the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) Cycle to improve meeting management and (2) to disclose the specific virtues necessary to shape group character development in implementing quality meeting management. It is the linking of the quality improvement and organizational ethics research literatures and their application to improving meeting management that constitute the innovative contribution of this article to academicians and practitioners.

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

The theoretical framework that grounds the authors' approach resides in learning process theory (Senge et al., 1994; Handy, 1990) and group dynamics theory (Argyris, 1993; Hackman, 1989). In learning process theory, Senge et al (1994) and Handy (1990) argue for "the wheel of learning" as a way to individually and collectively master the rhythm of a learning organization. The four elements of the individual learning cycle incorporate the following four steps: (1) deciding on a course of action, (2) doing or performing the planned task, (3) reflecting upon (thinking and feeling) the processes used to achieve the performed task, and (4) connecting with possibilities for future action that build upon prior success and anticipate fruitful paths for new inquiries. The parallel four elements in the group learning wheel include: (1) joint planning, (2) coordinated action, (3) public reflection, and (4) shared meaning. These elements are essentially those in the quality PDSA Cycle, and the role of leaders is to keep the wheel (or PDSA Cycle) moving to sustain the momentum of group learning. This is not an easy task since it requires the technical skills associated with the quality PDSA Cycle and the capacity for specific virtues at each stage. For example, in successful joint planning, foresight is a key intellectual virtue. In successfully coordinated action that avoids distractions, faces obstacles to task performance, and continually communicates encouragement, honesty, courage and expressiveness are key moral and emotional virtues. During successful public reflection, cooperation and caring respect for different learning styles of group members are key social virtues. Finally, during the successful shared meaning phase, fairness and inclusiveness of shared insights from group members are key political virtues.

In group dynamics theory, Argyris (1993) and Hackman (1989) note that groups often "get stuck" in defensive routines in meetings that inhibit effective learning and may "remain stuck" unless their dysfunctional cycles are interrupted. They delineate the self-fueling, counterproductive group dynamic processes that lead to dysfunctional meetings as follows: (1) issues that are perceived as embarrassing or threatening in meetings become undiscussable or attributed to "internal politics," (2) sensitive meeting issues are then bypassed or covered-up to protect group members while inhibiting organizational learning, (3) actions that excuse and maintain the original bypass and cover-ups are employed, such as blaming others and distancing oneself from responsibility and, (4) the adverse consequence of actions that harm meetings prevail, such as arriving late, leaving early, missing meetings, discussing only boring, safe topics or informal group dissolution. …