Meeting Protocol Improves Morale: Meeting Facilitation Better Guarantees Positive Results

We all hate meetings when nothing is achieved, because we rightly perceive this as an abuse of our time. One last rule: NEVER CALL A MEETING WHEN THERE IS NO CLEAR GOAL OR PURPOSE.

DO WE NEED A NEW PROTOCOL FOR EFFECTIVE MEETINGS?

With each wave of new technology, come new problems. It has become increasingly difficult to start and end meetings on time in Lebanon. Mind you, it has never been easy to do this.

It has also become virtually impossible to keep everyone in the room focused on the subject under discussion. Sometimes, it is even a problem to keep them physically present in the room.

Let me paint a composite picture of meetings I have observed in places high and low, big and small, and including a few or many individuals. The scenario is fundamentally the same: The meeting is set to convene at 4:00 p.m.; the first arrivals sit around chatting about the high points of the Miss Universe contest and ‘talk shop’; another cluster of participants are exchanging the latest spicy gossip and drawing tears from each other’s eyes with their risqué jokes. Nadim is writing down the items his wife wants him to buy on his way home.

At 4:15 p.m. the chairman enters. He asks why everyone isn’t in the room as yet. In fact, he notes that the two persons most concerned with the issues to be discussed aren’t there. He asks if anyone has taken orders for coffee, tea or other refreshment. No one has. He calls in the employee responsible for taking care of the refreshment service.

While the orders are being taken, Ghassan’s mobile phone rings. He picks it up and proceeds to discuss, with a client, the offer the company has recently made him. As soon as the conversation ‘heats up’, he leaves the room to speak in greater privacy.

The chairman picks up his cellular phone and calls the tardy individuals on their cellulars. He catches one and gives him hell for not being at the meeting. He orders him to bring his body down to the meeting immediately. This is done in full ‘hearing’ and ‘seeing’ range of the other participants at the meeting. The second ‘delinquent’ has his mobile phone switched off, so the chairman fails to contact him. Instead, the chairman makes some very uncomplimentary remarks and yells to everyone that it is about time to start the meeting. After all, it is now 4:40 p.m.

Due to the delay in starting the meeting, almost all those present had busied themselves with interpersonal telephone communications via their individual and private, mobile, cellular phones. So when the chairman called the meeting to order, there was a chorus of, “Good-bye, I have a meeting now.” This was followed by a noise which sounded like the army laying down their guns, as everyone planted his phone on the table before him.

Please note though that these precious possessions were NOT switched off. As the meeting progressed there were a number of high-pitched interjections in various tunes and modulations announcing the invasion of the meeting by callers using the new medium of the CELLULAR PHONE.

At 6:00 p.m. only two of the four items on the agenda had been discussed, and everyone was at the end of their patience and tolerance. The chairman finally said: “Will everyone please switch off those F*****g phones, so we can finish the business we came here to do?”

Something like this or close to this happens every day in the business world. Some people accept this as normal behavior, but others have developed serious allergies and have been forced to find a cure. For those who are allergic, here are some remedies for making your meetings more effective:

1. If you are chairing the meeting, ARRIVE ON TIME and, if possible, always before everyone else. It is good for you to be in the room to observe the sequence of participant arrivals. Also, participants who know that this is your style will consider being more punctual if they know that their behavior and attitude speak volumes, and that you can decipher the ‘text’ and will make them accountable for the quality of their performance on all levels.

2. Before you start the meeting, insist that everyone, no exceptions, TURN OFF ALL DEVICES that could create distraction, such as cellular phones and beepers. If anyone is expecting urgent or important calls, they should be asked to leave their phone outside with a secretary or office assistant who can follow instructions or take a message without interrupting the meeting.

3. CONCENTRATE ON THE MEETING’S OBJECTIVE and offer only relevant input. If the objective of the meeting is clearly stated at the beginning, as well as written on a flip chart or at the top of the agenda, this will help to keep everyone focused on the goal to be achieved within the time allotted.

4. Show a desire to LEARN FROM OTHERS by encouraging participants to express different viewpoints, and listening to them objectively. People are not highly motivated to attend meetings where their only role is passive listener or observer.

5. DEAL WITH CONFLICT as a healthy and constructive part of open and effective communication. It is not much good to have a collection of nodding heads at a meeting regardless of the internal convictions. It is quite possible to treat others with respect in spite of disagreements. In fact, there is a lot to be learned from disagreement, if it is carefully listened to and profoundly analyzed to understand the source and motivation behind it.

6. TEST THE EFFICIENCY AND EFFECTIVENESS of your meeting by going back to the goal that was stated at the beginning of the meeting to see whether or not it was achieved; how long it took to get to that goal, and what practical action plan emerged for turning decisions into results. If by the end of the meeting, everyone leaves with a clear idea of what is the next practical step to be taken; who should take it; how they should proceed; when they should deliver results; and the standards of judgment that will be used to evaluate the success or failure of outcomes, the meeting would have been handled with exceptional skill and leadership.

Now you have a SIX-POINT CHECK-LIST that you can use to make your meetings more effective and efficient. We all hate meetings when nothing is achieved, because we rightly perceive this as an abuse of our time. One last rule: NEVER CALL A MEETING WHEN THERE IS NO CLEAR GOAL OR PURPOSE.