Thursday, July 2, 2009

Meeting Mojo

Meetings, it seems, are the stock in trade of organizational life. A centuries' old managerial tool that has changed little in format, except for the presence of electronic gadgets and the digital or telephonic presence of far-away participants. As much as some folks would like to get away from them altogether -- paring down frequency and length of time spent together -- the fact remains that organizations are comprised of two or more people and communication among them is what gets things done. Whether you call it a conversation or a convocation, it's still a meeting.

And most agree there's room for improvement (why else would there be so many books, articles and blogs devoted to them?). Here's one more. Gretchen Rubin offers up fourteen tips for running good meetings with a rundown of the basics -- start on time/end on time; send out an agenda beforehand and stick to it; be specific about action items -- and she throws in a big dose of etiquette while she's at it. For board and staff leaders: work hard to draw people into the discussion; for everyone: don't undermine others, and take blame and give credit where and when it's due.

Allow for some short breaks for people to check emails and voice mails. Otherwise, they'll be doing that not so surreptitiously on their handhelds. This brings to mind a phenomenon that's getting some bandwidth on facilitation listservs and blogs: the rise of commentary taking place via handhelds among meeting participants about the meeting they're in.
As one lister noted, "I am aware of the thinking behind digital natives which suggests they are able to multi-task in ways digital immigrants (people like me...on the other side of 50...well, 35 really) are not. On the other hand, side meetings of any kind can be a problem for a couple of reasons: Because individuals may be missing bits going on in the main group and because you may be missing critical thinking from a side meeting which is not getting to the entire group."
It's the last nugget that we all should be really concerned about. Whether it's an electronic side meeting happening in real time or the "parking lot" meeting that happens after the meeting, these are conversations that impact the efficacy of the official face-to-face discussion. Not just because they can contain demoralizing grousing, but because they often contain a lot of really good ideas and solutions that could benefit the rest of the group. Let's think about how we can move the best of side meetings into the mainstream conversation.

Photo: Graph of a typical business meeting by dgray_xplane

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