Monday, September 29, 2008

10 Meeting Basics

Found a very good article on Meetings Here

been sitting in the meeting for 93 minutes. It feels like 93 days. It was supposed
to last an hour, max, but the Senior VP is in the room, and the point of the session
was to discuss his pet project, and no one wants to be the first to crack. Everyone
else is busy making gratuitous points designed to flatter Mr. Big. You're entertaining
fantasies about throwing a cream pie, or worse, at the blowhard who just won't
stop talking about how successful the project will be. You know it's doomed to
fail; it's the high-tech equivalent of selling ice to the Inuit.

You're asking yourself, who's in charge here? How did all these
reasonably well-intentioned people get so far out of whack? And, more to the
point, how can this juggernaut be stopped?

Since mass laryngitis is not an option, you need the Ten Commandments
of Meetings. Moreover, you need to post them prominently in meeting rooms so
that everyone can begin to follow them – especially the leader. Remember that
even Moses had trouble with his unruly flock from time to time, so be prepared
for the occasional outburst of the modern corporate version of Baal worship.

Thou Shalt Always
Know What Time It Is

The clock is God in meetings. Out of respect for the commitment and sanity
of everyone who attends, meetings should never run over the time allotted.
Especially regularly scheduled meetings. If the session gets bogged down
in an issue, table it for another meeting. If the meeting must conclude
by taking an action or decision, then schedule it accordingly. Tell all
the participants before the meeting starts that it will go as long as
necessary to reach the stated conclusion. Don't mislead people by minimizing
the amount of work involved; that kind of trickery will only come back
to haunt you.

Shalt Not Forget the Main Reason for Meetings

The only good reason to have meetings is to do something together that
you can't do better alone. In business, meetings have three primary purposes:
communicating, administering, and deciding. Of these, the first and last
are most worthwhile. But the focus of all three kinds of meetings should
be action. They should either be communicating the intention to take an
action or the results of action that has been taken, administering a plan
of action, or deciding among alternative actions. If you find yourself
calling meetings – or going to them – that have some other purpose,
you're wasting your time. And everyone else's. Find something else to

Thou Shalt Remember
the Golden Rule of Meetings:

Praise in Public, Criticize in Private

Shut off public criticism when it arises. It's extremely destructive
to morale and should be prevented. Indeed, much misery could be avoided
in the business world if all members of the corporate community would
remember a simple fact: if they are working for the same employer, then
they are all on the same team. Corporate politics we will always have
with us, but that doesn't mean that we have to accept them tamely. Help
your vocally critical teammates by making it clear, in advance of each
meeting, who is in charge, how long the meeting will last, and what the
point of the meeting is. Then deal with attempts to take the meeting in
other, more vicious directions as simple misunderstandings of the agreed-upon
ground rules. Politely but firmly steer the meeting back to the right

Shalt Not Convene Meetings Outside of Normal Business Hours

Of course there are times when this commandment must be
broken, but they should be reserved for real emergencies. People who schedule
meetings for evenings and weekends are merely advertising the embarrassing
fact that they have no life - and they're expecting others to give up
theirs. That kind of person should not be allowed to run anything, much
less part of a modern corporation, because they lack the basic humanity
to do a good job. Surviving in the fast-moving, devil-take-the-hindmost
business world of today requires good peripheral vision as well as keen
understanding of the work involved. Those without the necessary life balance
can't possibly understand that world they're in or see around the next
business corner.

Shalt Not Use Group Pressure to Logroll Conclusions

It is simply wrong to use meetings to pressure people into agreeing to
actions or ideas that they know to be immoral or illegal in order to promote
the business of the corporation. Group pressure is a powerful force, especially
where jobs are at stake. Don't misuse it to get people to stray from the
straight and narrow, or bend the rules, or set the quotas dangerously
high, or cut corners on quality, or any one of a thousand such activities
that go on every day in misguided organizations everywhere. Your corporation
has a set of values. If it doesn't include adherence to a code of ethics
and the rule of law, change the values or find values or find somewhere
else to work.

Thou Shalt Not Use
Meetings to Destroy Others' Careers

There is enough room in every meeting for a disagreement without making
it personal or destructive. More than that, it's wrong – and politically
unwise. Modern corporate life has become so ephemeral and its denizens
so transient that your past is bound to come back and face you again,
and sooner rather than later. A petty triumph at someone else's expense
at one job may well prove seriously embarrassing at your next job. Resist
the temptation. Curiously, the unstable nature of today's workplace has
encouraged people to take the opposite attitude. The thinking seems to
run, "I'll never see these people again, so why not cut loose?" But the
opposite is almost certainly true.

Thou Shalt Keep the
Personal and the Corporate Distinct

There's nothing wrong with having friends at work. But meetings are not
for social calls. To be sure, a certain amount of socializing at the beginnings
and endings of meetings is part of the grease that keeps the well-oiled
corporate machine running smoothly. But the balance should be clearly
kept on the side of business. Too much socializing will lead to resentment
among the others at the meeting who are not part of the party. More than
that, it's inefficient, bad for business, and corrosive for your soul.
You need to have a life outside the corporate one. If you find that all
your socializing is taking place in business meetings, it's time to change
a few things.

Thou Shalt Remember
that the Best Model for Meetings Is Democracy, Not Monarchy

Resist the temptation to railroad your fellow participants into a decision
you want. You need to lead by moral persuasion, not by virtue of your
title. Brute force is not the appropriate mode for meetings, though jujitsu
sometimes is. As a leader, you should always strive to understand the
sense of the meeting. If you want to issue edicts, publish them in the
media available to you. You don't need a meeting to announce a new course
of proceeding that is not up for discussion. And watch out for other participants
in the meeting trying to take control. Hijacking a meeting is a cherished
corporate game, but a nasty one. It's your job as a leader to prevent
that from happening.

Shalt Always Prepare a Clear Agenda and Circulate It Beforehand

It is more than courtesy – it is good efficient business practice to
think hard about the purpose, nature and structure of a meeting before
it takes place. These thoughts should be codified in the form of an agenda
and circulated to all participants well in advance of the meeting. Time
enough, at any rate, for the participants to prepare whatever they need
to in the way of reports, plans, proposals, or the like. Far too often,
people who call meetings grossly underestimate the amount of preparation
required of the participants.

Thou Shalt Terminate
a Regularly Scheduled Meeting When Its Purpose for Being No Longer Exists

If you can no longer clearly state the reason for having
a regular meeting, it's time to kill it. Purposes change, and when the
meeting has lost its reason fortaking place, be the first one to put an
end to it. All periodic meetings should have a stock-taking every few
sessions to determine if the meeting still has a purpose. It's just one
way to fight corporate bloat and bureaucratic encrustation. Of course,
for this discipline to work, you must have decided what the regular meeting
was for when it was begun. Goal-setting is just as important in meetings
as it is in the rest of corporate life.

The only meetings that people wish had run longer are those
magical ones that take place when lovers first set eyes upon one another.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that your business meeting is that
thrilling. Keep its timing, purpose, and tone in perspective. Live to
meet another day.

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