Maximizing your meeting time
When it comes to running a meeting, new and improved often isn’t
by Conal Pierse
You aren’t your dad’s company.
You don’t dictate a memo to the typing pool, you don’t wear a suit on Fridays and you don’t smoke cigars indoors. You’re modern, hip and riding the technology curve. You can tag it, type it, post it, stream it and update it all from your phone. If need be, you can even yell at a moving picture of someone who lives in China. You get technology, or at least you get that you’re supposed to get it, or maybe someone just shoved a space-age device in your hand and now you can’t get it to stop playing ABBA’s “Money, Money, Money” on full volume.
Maybe these flashing gizmos are strange and confusing to you, and maybe, just maybe, you’d rather do things the old-fashioned way.
And maybe you’d be on to something.
Technology is useful and collaboration is important, but before you bring them into the boardroom, consider what you’re trying to accomplish, and whether that new technology and those new techniques are actually helping. After all, as the old saying (sort of) goes, you can teach a man to fish, but it’s damn near useless in the desert.
Make Time For Meetings
“People generally underestimate the importance of running good meetings and we’ve been in organizations where they don’t meet at all, and you sort of scratch your head and go, ‘Why not?’ ” says Jeffrey Cullen of Omni Management Consulting Alliance. “They say, ‘Well, we used to meet but it always devolved into conflict,’ so rather than trying to be more effective at meeting, they just stop having them.”
On the other hand, meeting just to meet is wasted effort and is to be avoided at all costs. If you want an empty sense of accomplishment, fill out a Sudoku. Organizers planning a meeting should consider the personnel cost to determine whether having a sit-down is actually worthwhile. If you’re paying someone $1,000 a week and they spend two hours in internal meetings each week, that costs the company $2,600 a year. If there are 10 people at every meeting, that costs $26,000. So the question then becomes: Are you getting that much value out of these meetings?
But if a meeting is essential, come prepared: Have specific objectives and outcomes in mind, limit attendance to those who need to be there, keep accurate minutes and assign responsibility for tasks. The latter item is crucial, since unless staff leave a meeting aware of what they have to do, no progress is made and the problem will resurface at subsequent meetings without having been addressed.
Get the Technology Right
If you or your staff don’t know how and when to use technology, it can end up handicapping you, says Western Management Consultants director Kent Stewart. “Your business is about people, so the comfort level of the people involved needs to be tested early in the process,” he says. “There’s nothing more frustrating for someone who’s not technologically skilled to be involved with something where everyone else naturally assumes you just push button X, Y or Z, and they don’t.”
And likewise when it comes to technology, it’s not enough to simply incorporate gadgets into meetings, says Jeff Lowe, vice-president of marketing for Smart Technologies. The Calgary-based business produces interactive displays and researches how businesses use collaborative technology. They found that nearly half of the companies they studied either failed to use collaborative technology, or did so ineffectively. He says in these instances, a business does itself a disservice and misses out on potential bonuses to productivity.
“Technology alone will not solve the problem,” Lowe says. “You have to think about what you’re trying to accomplish. You have to say, ‘What’s our business and what do we meet on, how does that work and how does technology play a role in all of that?’ ”
The Truth About Teamwork
Collaboration sounds great in theory. In reality, though, encouraging contribution and collaboration doesn’t mean the input will be useful, or even accurate. In group scenarios, people often attempt to minimize conflict in the interest of reaching consensus, which can be disastrous for collaborative efforts. This psychological phenomenon, known as groupthink, often produces erroneous results in office situations.
Just as lunch orders always leave you with a large, untouched vegetarian pizza that nobody really wanted, the results of collaborative meetings won’t always be what people want.
Cullen says this is why it’s important to have an effective facilitator in these group scenarios, rather than encouraging anarchy. A good facilitator encourages discussion and actively watches for and encourages group members who may be reluctant to express dissent. And, much as the lunchtime hero steps in to say, “Why are we arguing about putting olives on a hawaiian pizza? This is insane,” a facilitator can prevent the group from getting deadlocked in heated, futile disagreements.
This is especially important for meetings on contentious subjects, as these can drag on for hours, Cullen says, because when you’re conducting meetings, time is literally money.
Get Face Time, not Facetime
Technology can bring people together, and it can drive them apart. With advances in communications, out of town and even cross-town meetings are becoming less and less common. Leaving the office costs time and money, and when all you need is an update or rubber stamp, picking up the phone or connecting on Skype makes more sense, says Stewart.
However, if you’re looking to establish a relationship with new clients or partners, face-to-face contact is crucial. It builds stronger working relationships between employees and can make them more effective at long-distance collaboration.
“Nothing beats face-to-face in terms of creating an understanding so they know what we’re going to do and they get to know me,” Stewart says. “Once that trust is established, you can save a lot of time and money [by using the phone].”
Conversations also become less nuanced with distance, as the disembodied voices and heads are divorced from body language, says Cullen. It’s more difficult to gauge objection in such meetings, as various cues like folded arms or furrowed brows are unavailable when the other person isn’t in front of you.
It’s also easier for attendees to tune out or fade into the background, Cullen says, and co-ordinators have to be more vigilant to ensure