Bob stormed into
Sandra's office and threw his arms up in disgust. "I'm fed up,"
he said. "I'm back from another weekly meeting of the job ranking
committee and, as usual, it was a complete waste of time. Three people
got into an argument, the rest slept or read and the chair let things
drift. The only thing we accomplished was to waste two hours."
Sandra looked up
from her computer. "And what did you do, Bob, to help make the
meeting more successful."
"Me. I'm not
the chair; I can't do anything. I want to resign. This group is going
nowhere and I don't want any part of it."
you first joined that committee you were excited. You thought belonging
to this particular group would help advance you in the organization
and that you could make some valuable contributions. You also thought
it was important to keep up to date on some of the new policies we're
implementing. So the meetings aren't being run to your satisfaction.
Why don't you make an effort to get things back on track?"
"Like I said,
I'm not the chair."
"I am involved
in numerous committees, both as a chair and as a participant,"
Sandra pointed out. "There are several things a participant can
do to make meetings more effective. And, as a chair I appreciate it."
"First of all,
come to the meetings prepared. Read the agenda beforehand. Know what
the chair wants to cover and be prepared to discuss the issue. If you
have any relevant handouts bring them with you and bring enough copies
to distribute to the group."
was an item I wanted to discuss but it wasn't on the agenda and we ran
out of time," objected Bob.
operates differently," replied Sandra. "However, I recommend
you talk to the chair before the meeting and let him or her decide whether
to put it on the agenda. Don't 'sandbag' the chair or the members by
trying to open a new topic without giving them some up front thinking
or research time. In addition, a good chair has the topics timed. It's
not fair to throw the meeting off schedule with an unplanned discussion."
"In the meeting
this morning," said Bob, "we got off track and spent a lot
of time going in circles. I kept waiting for the chair to call us back
to order, but it didn't happen. It was really irritating."
"Bob, a good
chair must allow everyone equal time to talk about an issue. However,
sometimes we allow this to go on for too long. Don't put up with poor
meetings. It's your time that is being wasted. If you believe the discussion
is accomplishing nothing and if your group's business is conducted through
parliamentary procedures, you could make motions 'to table' an issue,
'limit' or 'close debate' or even 'to recess.'"
"I think, though,
that your group is more informal and doesn't use motions. In this case,
the next time you feel people have been rehashing a topic for an extended
length of time, ask the chair to redefine the issue. This should bring
the subject back on track and hand the control of the meeting back to
the chair." Bob then asked, "Should I do the same thing when
members get into a heated discussion?"
the better approach would be to act as a mediator. If the chair doesn't
assume the role automatically, then you do it. Restate each person's
position, as you see it, and point out the similarities. This technique
forces the participants to be more objective and takes some of the heat
out of the discussion."
bringing other work in with you, if you think the meeting will be boring,"
asked Bob. "Is this permissible?"
"If it's a
large meeting, you could probably get away with it," said Sandra.
"But remember you can't do two things well at the same time. One,
if not both, of the tasks will suffer."
"So I shouldn't
bother making any notes at a meeting."
"No, I didn't
say that," replied Sandra. "Always make your own notes on
action items that concern you or on items you want to follow up on.
I record this right on the agenda sheet. Don't wait for the minutes
to jog your memory."
Don't dash out of a meeting as soon as it is over. Take time to speak
with the chair and the other participants after the session. Some of
the best 'meetings' are held after the scheduled meeting."
Then what do I do, wait for the next meeting?" laughed Bob.
make that mistake. There are several things you should do. Start to
work on the action items you are responsible for. Second, file that
agenda sheet listing the items you want to see followed up. Later, when
the minutes arrive, check that these items are included. Don't let important
the minutes. I know it's boring but this is the history of your group's
activities. Help ensure it's accurate and keep in mind that only the
information presented at the meeting can be included."
to non-members about any meeting topics that concern them - if the information
is not confidential. This will consolidate your understanding of the
topic, give you additional input and establish you as a knowledgeable
"Did you hear
about that meeting Jim in accounting held last week to try and get his
people to come up with solutions to the job ranking problem? I hear
it was a real fiasco. Some of the people still aren't talking to each
other," Bob asked.
Sandra smiled. "Unfortunately,
it was doomed to start with. The physical setting of the room is an
important aspect of meetings. Jim chose the small boardroom on the 8th
floor. You know the one with the round table. Round tables are useless
for situations when you are dealing with controversial questions. They
tend to magnify small irritations. Round tables are wonderful for brainstorming,
but if you need to do any problem solving use a rectangular table. On
the other hand, if you want a really short meeting don't give people
a chance to sit down. Convey the information and answer any questions
while they are standing."
Bob sighed, "Well,
you've certainly given me a lot to think about. Attending a meeting
requires more than just showing up."
are a necessary part of today's business world. And you must take responsibility
for them, if you want to get the most from them."