Thursday, September 6, 2018

Before You Invite Colleagues to a Staff Meeting, Ask This One Question


No matter how many times we read management articles suggesting that we cut down on meetings, they still seem to, well, happen before we know it. That’s in part because there’s something reassuring about seeing the faces of your colleagues and reading their body language and tone when discussing key issues. That doesn’t make holding needless gatherings a good idea, though.

It’s worth bearing in mind the maxim cited in one of our favorite articles in The Economist, to wit: “80% of the time of 80% of the people in meetings is wasted.” Very few organizations can afford to waste that much of their staff and management time.


The question is, it’s time to have a face-to-face discussion on an issue, how do you decide who should participate? Are the people that must be included as a matter of course? Is it possible that by leaving a lower status person out, you’re missing a vital perspective?

One way to process this is to start by asking yourself “who has the best understanding of this issue?” rather than “who needs to be in the meeting?” When you ask who needs to be there you may be obeying unwritten rules that don’t really serve your organization. But if you ask yourself who understands the issue you might draw on knowledge sources that are otherwise neglected.
Another way to think your meeting strategy through is to ask yourself whether the key issue to be discussed is related to company policy or company operations. While the two overlap, as well the people who should be present to address them, it helps figure who has the biggest stake in the matter.
For example, if you make a major policy decision it’s likely that all of the executives or leadership members should attend. On the other extreme, if you’re deciding how to organize your sales team, that’s a purely operational issue.
You may even want to mix it up to some degree, holding one meeting to solicit feedback from your executive team and another to learn what your staff has to say on an issue. Then, everyone is in synch with little time wasted.

Few office workers like to attend meetings. Reasons for this include their inefficiency, the tendency to run to groupthink and the likelihood that many who attend public have little to contribute. These meetings can drag on for hours.

In some cases, involving people in a meeting can be important, including when significant events such as a change of leadership or strategy, or with the announcement of job losses. Also, it may be beneficial to hold a very brief team meeting each morning to share progress updates. However, if a meeting is meandering and ineffective it’s probably not worth holding.
To improve meetings, experts say, it’s important to see that everyone involved as well prepared and has seen the agenda. People can react badly if they don’t know what to expect and get caught off guard. A good agenda will put the most difficult items at the beginning of the meeting and tackle them right away.  It also helps to decide whether the meeting is designed to gain buy-in for a management decision to collect feedback from workers.

Meetings that push a management objective should be rare in a well-run firm, but if such a meeting must be held it’s best if allies of the meeting leader speak first and drive the agenda.
Meanwhile, the meeting’s goal is to learn what people think, it’s best to start with low status employees and encourage them to speak. For best results, enforce a “no interruption rule” to be sure they are not intimidated. It’s also an option to let people submit their views anonymously in advance.
Once a meeting has been held and decisions made, it’s important that everyone else finds out what has been decided. Sometimes even people who are present leave the room without being sure what has been agreed upon.

Finally, if you can avoid a meeting avoid it. When possible, use electronic messaging groups or private message exchange tools to keep management and employees in touch. These venues allow everyone to impart messages in succinct form. They also make it easy for those who aren’t involved to ignore the messages and keep working.