Magazine article Supervisory Management

Meetings Can Be Effective

Magazine article Supervisory Management

Meetings Can Be Effective

Article excerpt

Meetings are a raw nerve in organizational life. Most companies seem to have meetings almost non-stop--even though everyone seems to hate them. In fact, the more people hate meetings, the more they seem to have. Isn't there a better way to communicate information and make decisions?

Unfortunately, the meeting seems to be here to stay--but that doesn't mean you have to give up trying to make it work. Meetings may not be too effective for distributing information, but they remain potentially one of the most effective means of obtaining quality decisions--if a few guidelines are kept in mind.

Problems with Meetings

In their book We Have to Start Meeting Like This (publisher, date?), Bob Nelson and Dr. Roger Mosvick sought to clarify the reasons why meetings are so poorly done and what could be done to improve them. They surveyed about 1000 managers in major U.S. corporations such as 3M, Honeywell, IBM, Control Data, and General Dynamics. They found the three most frequently reported meeting problems were (1) getting off the subject, (2) not having goals or an agenda, and (3) meeting for too long.

Getting off the subject is the most commonly reported problem with meetings. Meetings get off track when there's a lack of structure and discipline. Participants don't feel it's their job to control the meeting, and the group leader often doesn't want to seem overbearing or authoritarian. Nelson and Mosvick claim one of the group leader's primary tasks is to get group members to feel it's their meeting. Meetings won't improve until everyone involved feels responsible for making the time effective.

Another key to staying on track is the frequent use of summaries. All meetings need an ebb and flow that allows for open discussion (necessary to explore new ideas), which is then curtailed and summarized in a timely manner. Without summaries throughout the meeting, the discussion is likely to wander aimlessly.

Not having goals or an agenda is practically a guarantee that an unproductive, free-wheeling discussion will follow. Participants need to know in advance why they've been asked to attend, as well as what specifically will be expected of them. The agenda provides not only a preview of what will be discussed, but also the pace of the discussion.

The chair of any meeting needs to give a several-minute "orientation speech" that clearly states the goals of the meeting as specifically as possible. All meetings must have an objective and a plan for reaching that objective or else the group's time will be wasted. For this reason, staff meetings that are routinely held without any specific purpose should be abolished.

Meeting for too long is a result of a number of factors such as starting late, not keeping to time estimates, and running overtime. Starting and stopping on time is simply a matter of professionalism--and habit. Discussions can be better kept within time limits if they stay focused on facts and observable data. Opinion and speculation need to be kept to a minimum.

Vary Meeting Formats

In their book, Nelson and Mosvick dispel the belief that every meeting should be conducted in essentially the same way. Instead, they advocate varying the formats of meetings to fit specific purposes. Here are some of the formats they propose:

The Ross Four Step Agenda provides a systematic way to evaluate and act on problems objectively. …

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