Magazine article Training & Development

Better Meetings for Better Communication

Magazine article Training & Development

Better Meetings for Better Communication

Article excerpt

A successful organization is one in which people communicate well and work together effectively. But that's easier said than done.

Meetings are the bane of many a manager's existence, but they are also an important way of building and maintaining constructive interaction in a company. How do you make sure that the meetings in your company get the work done? How do you plan and run meetings so that they leave attendees feeling more committed to achieving organizational goals?

In the first article below, Paul Sandwith lays out a practical approach to meetings that meet a company's functional and symbolic needs.

Meetings are just one way in which groups of people work and communicate. If your company is moving to a system of self-directed work teams, you probably have first-hand experience of the need for better ways of working together to make decisions and solve problems.

The 9 a.m meeting starts at 9:08. Except for one or two stragglers, most of those who are supposed to attend have arrived.

The boss starts with the usual speech about how he or she knows everyone is busy, but that these weekly meetings are essential. Then the boss promises (falsely, it will turn out) to keep the meeting brief.

The boss drones on about his or her perspective on various items, in no particular order, sometimes pausing for questions or comments. Occasionally, some mild debates result, but most often the boss's words are met with silence.

The meeting finally grinds to a halt. The boss's commentary has been exhausted, some insightful comments from others have been overruled or ignored, and a few brave but misguided souls have flogged their dead horses once again.

If that scene sounds familiar, you are not alone. By some recent estimates, the average manager spends about 20 weeks of the year in meetings, 6 weeks of which are a complete waste of time. Many people in most organizations regularly attend meetings they see as useless.

A critical challenge for companies and managers is to find ways to make meetings more productive for the organization and for those who attend them.

Powerful tools used badly

Meetings are one of the most powerful communication tools in companies, second only to organizational grapevines. When people come together in a meeting, they communicate a lot of information. But much of the communication is hidden and much of it is unintentional.

People listen to what is said and not said. They watch how things are said and how people react. They evaluate the way in which the meeting was conducted, the quality of decisions reached, and the use of attendees' time.

People in a wide range of organizations share some common complaints about meetings: * Meetings are boring. * They are a waste of time. * Many are poorly organized, unstructured, and chaotic. * They last too long. * We have them too often, or we don't have enough of them. * Nothing is ever decided in meetings. * People aren't asked for input and no one will speak up.

At first glance, those sound like symptoms of functional problems involving domineering leaders and a lack of purpose, structure, and direction. But more fundamentally, the symptoms suggest that people in organizations tend to overlook the role of meetings as symbolic communication processes.

Functional and symbolic

The purposes of organizational meetings fall into two interrelated categories: functional and symbolic.

Meetings are functional in that we intend for them to accomplish concrete, practical work. Meetings that are well-managed functionally can develop competence for the organization.

Some examples of functional purposes of meetings: * disseminating information about new products * seeking information about work problems * building support for new ideas among those who will be responsible for implementing them.

Meetings are symbolic because the purposes for which they are used and the ways in which they are conducted send meaningful messages to employees about a company. …

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