Curing Those Staff Meeting Blues

Article excerpt

Mention the term "staff meeting" and you'll hear reactions ranging from the occasional comments about it being a waste of time to the more prevalent complaints of frustration or disinterest.

Staff meetings can and should be among the most satisfying, productive activities of any organization. And they can be-if meeting planners and chairpersons prepare for the all-too-common problems that afflict many staff meetings.

Let's consider a few of these problems, and the steps you can take to resolve them:

"We just can't get focused on the topics we discuss."

Solution: Distribute a detailed agenda. Take a few moments at the beginning of the meeting to review the game plan, and conduct a brief evaluation at meeting's end. And, of course, train and orient anyone who will be leading the meeting.

"People keep talking about ideas and issues that aren't relevant to what we're discussing."

Solution: Jot those ideas down on a large "off the-topic" blackboard at the side of the room. Ask the meeting's secretary to note these comments for future discussion and then move back to the issue at hand. Labeling these issues as "off the-- topic" clearly identifies them as extraneous, but legitimizes their value for future consideration at a later time.

"We just don't get much participation in our meetings."

Solution: Add excitement and interest. For example, let participants in on current "organizational secrets;" provide a brief training component to meetings; rotate the chairperson's duties; or give participants specific tasks to perform during meetings.

"A few members monopolize our meetings."

Solution: Time agenda items and participant comments. Offer a "show-and-tell" portion of the agenda for random comments and reports. Encourage the chair to moderate lengthy discussions.

"Our meetings are just too long and complex."

Solution: Use visual and audio aids to simplify presentations. Delegate complex tasks to small subcommittees, and let them report their conclusions and results at the next meeting. Circulate background material on complex issues for review before meetings.

"We just don't communicate during our meetings."

Solution: Arrange chairs so that participants face each other. When discussing important issues, go around the room and ask for each participant s views. Discuss the communication patterns of the participants and the leadership style of the chairperson every so often; an understanding of the group's communication strengths and weaknesses may lead to more effective communication in the future.

"We don't spend enough time building agreement on the really important topics."

Solution: Use consensus-building techniques. For example, appoint rotating discussion leaders or request that the chair ask pointed questions to participants most directly affected by the issues under discussion. …