Thursday, November 7, 2013

Workplace Wisdom XI ..The meeting mania

ONE of the banes of an organization is the meeting mania that grips the managers. “He is in a meeting,” is the believable and common excuse given to unwelcome callers and stray visitors: “I have to rush off for a meeting,” is the line given to fretting wives on the phone. “I was struck at a meeting, explains a young working woman who comes home late to her anxious parents. How genuine or fruitful are these ‘meetings’ which eat away many hours of an organization?
A meeting is defined as ‘an assembly of people for discussion’.  The two important elements in this are ‘people’ and ‘discussion’ – the purpose of the meeting – which may or may not materialize. In most organizations, ‘decisions’ become a casualty – ironically because too many people, who just don’t see eye to eye with regard to the issues involved.  The best way to delay a decision is to put up the ‘matter’ before a select group of people commonly referred to as the ‘committee’. Once this matter comes up before the committee, there is further scope for endless deliberations which can comfortably stretch over half a dozen meetings.
The first flaw in the Meeting Mania is usually a wrong mix of people. There is tendency on the part of the person calling a meeting to include people he would like to please by adding them on the panel.  In this way, he is able to give undue importance to colleagues who may have no direct dealing with the ‘matter concerned or don’t have the necessary knowledge to tackle it effectively, but who may reciprocate the ‘courtesy’ with a favor.
To tackle a specific issue, a very thorough scrutiny of who should be involved in the discussions (and subsequent decision-making) would be the first step.  Only those who can contribute constructively should be called to attend to the matter.  Once the members on the panel have been identified, an agenda should be drawn up wherein the main issue and its various ramifications should be listed.  By disturbing this information beforehand, precious time is saved at the meeting itself.  Those present will already have acquainted themselves with the matter and pondered on their arguments and points of view.
The person calling the meeting must be in full charge of the situation. He must direct the proceedings, keeping the ultimate purpose of the whole exercise well in sight.  No single member must be allowed to wax eloquent on a point already grasped by the others and there must not be too much time wasted on irrelevant and minor details. In fact, it is a good discipline to specify the time allotted for each item.  Having called the meeting, the chairperson must allow every member to have his or her say – but must insist that each presentation be short and crisp.  No one must be permitted to digress and go off at a tangent.   
Then, there must be a concerted effort to debate the issue without repeating arguments or laboring points with the constant awareness that each member should work towards a consensus opinion.  Often, a meeting falls apart when stands become rigid and the matter becomes a, prestige issue, which is a polite term for a bad case of egoism. The attitude must be positive and the intention clear: that the meeting must to terminate with a conclusive decision which, of course, benefits the organization and not the individual. Except perhaps for a tea or coffee, which does help to relax members at a meeting, no eating should be served as they only serve to distract the attention of the members. A meeting should definitely aim at proving that several heads are better than one.