Meetings make me ___________________ .
A) want to call in sick on meeting days. (Be honest, how many of you have already done this on 1 or more occasion?)
B) want to stick toothpicks in my eyes.
C) understand how people can "go postal."
D) feel inspired to work hard towards our common goals and mission.
If you answered D, please leave your tips and best practices in the comments below. We all have a lot to learn from you.
If you answered A, B or C, then read on.
I've been struggling with the issue of meetings for a few years now. I've led them in different situations over my entire career and now in my new job, I'm in the position of attending even more and leading some of them again, in a new context. And so, I'm even more sensitive then ever to the body language and off-task behaviors that sometimes occurs. I'm also seeing how the Participant v Leader meeting behaviors and interactions can have a huge impact on the overall organization's dynamics. Now, on a weekly basis, I sit in on more meetings than some families in third world countries (and here in the US for that matter) have meals in a month.
For starters, I truly believe that everyone wants the same things for themselves as they relate to their school or organization. Everyone wants:
- common goals and a mission
- to be understood and valued
- to be trusted as a professional
- to be treated fairly
- to have a chance to be heard
- to know someone "has their backs"
And now a word from Captain Obvious: My not-at-all-scientific study over the last 26 years yields the results that many people engage in behaviors that chip away at achieving some of the above items for themselves. Say it ain't so!! Yup, it's so!
Sometimes, the very people who complain of meetings dragging on, losing focus or not running efficiently are the same people who may be guilty of these behaviors. Who hasn't sat in faculty or other meetings where people are:
- using laptops to videochat or IM, check email or do other work (using your laptop for relevant purposes is another story and can actually help move the meeting along - common sense and professional judgment prevails)
- having sidebar conversations (a quick whisper is fine, but anything that is audible to others and volleys back and forth more than twice should be taken offline - if it's really important, leave the room). Sidenote: I'm always amazed at how many adults don't know how to really whisper.
- loud giggling (see above sidebar conversations)
- body language that clearly shows annoyance at another's suggestions or comments. If something bothers you, speak up. If you aren't going to speak up, then contain yourself. Everyone can see you, including the person you've aimed at. If he doesn't see you at the time, you can be sure he will hear about it. It's passive aggressive and toxic to the work environment.
- grading papers (At a minimum, doesn't your student's work deserve your full attention?)
One of the first lessons I've learned in my new gig as a manager, is that your perspective changes immediately and enormously. So, let me be perfect clear here, I've been absolutely guilty of a few of the behaviors mentioned above. I wish I had someone take me aside and explain to me the impact of my sometimes inappropriate meeting behaviors rather than just ignore them and let me continue. I honestly believe although I would have met the discussion with initial embarrassment, I know I would have valued the input and would have changed immediately.
"What is the impact you speak of," you say? It's very difficult to feel, and be efficient in a meeting when you know many people aren't listening. Regardless of what they SAY they are doing ("I'm multitasking"). When you look around the room, you can easily see that one group is talking and laughing, and a few people are writing notes to each other and giggling, and others are grading papers, and others are texting and others are checking email and the rest are trying to listen and pay attention but are having difficulty due to the distracting behaviors of the others. Although I know "multitasking" means doing more than one task. I'm pretty sure the only way to effectively multitask is to do more than one thing but remain focused on the same task. So, you may be taking notes and looking something up and chatting with someone about a relevant idea.
Like the teacher who tries to teach with distractions in her class, she finds herself unable to focus herself. The same often happens to the meeting leader and much like the teacher who stands up in her class and can see everything, it makes you wonder if the meeting participants know if they can be seen. Or perhaps they don't care. Which raises the question of respect.
Out of respect, should you put aside your sidebar conversations, text messages and emails and focus on the meeting agenda, even if you hate it? Or is the onus on the meeting leader to be engaging just as we expect that of our teachers so the students don't go off-task?
Reading this not-so-recent-but-still-very-relevant blogpost by Chris Brogan put into perspective some thoughts about running meetings. Here are a few items from Chris that caught my eye:
- Schedule for Brevity
I like the idea of scheduling for brevity. I think most brainstorming can be done offline and online. Meaning, before the meeting and using a collaborative space. Then during the meeting final decisions can be made. I believe that there should be no surprise questions at meetings. If a decision will need to be made, then folks should have advance notice to mull it around prior.
- Keep Agendas Taut
How many meetings have you sat in where you run out of time and the last items are repeatedly either tabled for the next meeting, or given the "rush job?" I'm not a firm believer that the same items need to be on every agenda whether you need them or not. I'd like to see meetings go through agendas fairly quickly. If something needs more discussion, then let's take that small group and meet offline. I think when long discussions begin that only involve a small group, that's when the off task behaviors begin.
- Table Anything That Doesn't Fit The Format
Chris says, "Never ever ever let someone else throw a mess into the meeting. Stay on top. Thank the person for raising the issue. Mention that you’ll put it into consideration for the next agenda. Handle it offline. Do whatever. But don’t handle topics that aren’t on agenda in the meeting “just because we’re gathered around.”
This is a tough one. This is one of those things I think we would all LIKE to do, and may work well in the corporate world but in my reality (at least in faculty meetings and the organizational meetings I've attended) would come off as extremely rude. In my experiences, the only times I've seen this done is when it appeared that an argument is about to ensue. On the other hand, perhaps if this is done earlier on in the conversation, it may not have gone to that point. Hmmm...I do believe these ideas from Chris would help make meetings more efficient. But, would more efficient meetings really correct the issues with adults behaving poorly?
Who owns the problem?