Chapter 4. Preparing for Interactive Meetings

Chapter 4. Preparing for Interactive Meetings

Have you attended a meeting and walked away afterward thinking "THAT was a waste of time!" or, "Why didn't we get anything done?" In our time-oriented culture, wasting time (and money) in meetings is serious. This next section will teach you how to prepare for meetings and how to conduct them so that meeting objectives are accomplished, participants feel their views have been considered , and good decisions have been made.

Why Have Meetings?

A majority of groups and organizations couldn't function without meetings. Interacting face to face with other people is the best way to communicate when what YOU say depends on what OTHER PEOPLE say. You can react immediately to others' ideas; you can come up with new alternatives and problem solutions; you can discuss the repercussions of actions a group or organization is considering ”all of which you can't do sitting alone at your desk. Of course, there's electronic mail at your desk, which eases the process of communication, but email lacks the visual and vocal elements of communication necessary for perception of meaning.

A group meeting together becomes more than the sum of its parts . Groups are comprised of people with knowledge and experiences that vary ”they bring different resources to discussions. Especially in today's culture, problems extend beyond the boundaries of set disciplines or knowledge bases, so it is becoming increasingly important that people with varying backgrounds and viewpoints be brought together to discuss and decide.

An additional impetus for having meetings is that of implementing decisions. When people have the chance to present "their side" of an issue and when they can participate in making decisions on the issue, they are far more ready to implement a group decision, even though the decision may not be what they originally wanted. Sharing information, creating alternatives, and considering the potential aftermath of decisions are powerful ways to change people's minds and motivate them to change behavior. Learning to lead this process is essential for managers.

Part of the need for meetings concerns psychological needs of people. We need to feel we are part of an organization or a member of a team. We also need a sense of togetherness, belonging , and trust, we need help with responsibilities, and we need a renewed sense of commitment to our work groups and the organization. Meetings foster these needs. They are intensive ways of involving others in solving problems and making decisions. When people meet together for long periods of time or deal intensively for shorter periods, they often feel a sense of comradery with other group members . The time spent sharing experiences, stating personal views, and cooperating with others to find the best solution for all concerned creates a feeling of connectedness, a sense of community. Groups of people meeting together are potentially powerful. Leading efficient and effective meetings is important for managers!


What's Wrong with Meetings?

So what's wrong with meetings? A lot of it has to do with the way they're conducted ”the meeting process itself. When groups of people get together to discuss things, it helps if there is a standard conduct, a method for insuring that all factions represented are heard . A standard for meetings is Robert's Rules of Order . Written by General Henry M. Robert in 1876, these rules enforce parliamentary procedure, which came from the English Parliament at that time. Henry Robert was ordered to San Francisco in 1867 as part of the Army Engineers; he found a tumultuous place where various constituents had quite different ideas about how things got done.

Using the United States House of Representatives model, he developed a standard for meeting conduct, not to achieve consensus necessarily , but to insure "deliberation," or "working through" the issues. Inherent in deliberation is the right of the minority to be heard along with the majority, so that decisions are made by a majority of meeting constituents ONLY after considering the views of all persons potentially affected by them. The parliamentary model requires a chairperson who controls the discussion and a secretary who takes minutes, a record of what is discussed and decided. It also requires of participants an extensive knowledge of Robert's Rules.

That's part of what's wrong with meetings. In formal meetings today when Robert's Rules are used (and they still are), the chairperson must be adroit in Robertese, and participants need to be fairly skilled in the process. The Rules bring an accepted order to meetings, but some people view this as an encumbrance to expression. Another part of what's wrong is that this meeting process isn't suited to solving problems informally by collaborating, working together on complex issues that are interdependent. However, other protocols do not have universal acceptance.

A lack of standards for meetings makes conflict difficult to resolve, creates dilemmas when decisions are made without input from those affected by decisions, and makes leading a productive meeting difficult.

The meeting process you are about to learn shows the way to conduct efficient and effective meetings. You will learn how to prepare for and conduct meetings so that problem solving is done with spontaneity and decision making is direct and objective. Having learned these skills, you will be viewed as a leader with merit while being perceived as empathetic and humble . Your secret ”knowing that process determines outcome. By controlling the meeting process, you CAN determine what will happen. Effective meetings produce sound decisions, and organizations run on decisions at all levels.