Meetings are an interesting concept. Staff teams look at them in a number of ways: the bane of life, sucking all that is good from the profession, to be endured whilst consuming copious amounts of biscuits; or the opportunity to put across feedback from an initiative, both good and bad in, an energising motivational session filled with inspiring content, that reinvigorates the team.
Ok, so maybe they are the extremes, but the fact remains, meetings are not generally embraced as a motivational experience, and most people would rather be getting on with the job, than sat around talking about it.
What then, can be done about how staff view meetings? Well, perhaps the better question is, how can we can change what meetings produce?
Most blogs about meetings tell you that you should:
- have a “stated purpose or agenda”, and stick to it to keep you on track (tick);
- ensure that “everyone should come away with action points and a clear timescale for them”, the biggest companies in the world demand attendees leave meetings with actionable tasks (tick);
- “keep attendees to only those that need to be there”, attending a meeting isn’t a badge of honour (tick);
- “have an expected end time”, as pressure and constraint breed creativity, standing in meetings can ensure they are kept brief (tick).
Then comes the reality. We all make “to-do lists” in meetings. Action points are meticulously written down and minuted with every good intention of being completed. Then in the next meeting when the minutes are circulated, and the action points are read again, the realisation dawns that a) they’ve been completely forgotten about; b) they’ve been cast aside as more important issues have taken precedence or; c) there have been unforeseen issues that have prevented the task from being completed. And so the action point is added to the next set of minutes and written down with every good intention of being completed, as the cycle continues until the action point is no longer relevant and/or superseded.
Then it’s time for ideas to be put forward. One proactive department is immediately argued with by another as “it won’t work in our area because…” or “yes, but what about when you have to deal with…” and so the argument continues until you have unwittingly agreed to a fragmented implementation of the idea. Which is minuted as an action point…
The more forceful attendees make very clear their discussion points, regardless of an agenda, and the more laid back attendees when asked a direct question just say whatever the most popular general opinion is as the time.
Some “meetings” are in actuality a briefing, debriefing or general presentation of information sessions, with little time left over for anything else.
Before you send out those calendar invites consider the following:
- If the purpose of the meeting is a briefing or debriefing, do you really need a meeting? Can this be circulated in an email, instead of a power point presentation?
- Are you actually asking any questions? If not, then what are you expecting from your staff in the meeting, and why do you need them there? If you are asking specific questions can you get answers in an email?
- Who do you actually need in the room?
- Are you just inviting your entire staff team, or are they there for a reason, and will they able to contribute to the items on your agenda?
- Meetings scheduled at the end of a long day may not have the impact you might want. Think about the best time for your staff, bearing in mind the constraints on time they already have.
- Plan start and end times, so staff are aware of how long the meeting is going to be.
- Relevant, informative content with room for discussions about issues and plans are far more engaging, and give staff a feeling of their opinion being valued. Just presenting information on decisions that have already been made leaves staff feeling that they’re not regarded as important enough to be considered as having valuable contributions.
- Are you able to allow time for feedback, and a discussion about issues? For example where one staff member has had an issue with a student, you may find that others have had a similar experience and are able to offer support and advice on dealing with the situation.
- In terms of implementing new ideas and approaches, by encouraging staff to share their ideas and even lesson plans, the approaches could be used across different curriculums. This could be done as a separate meeting between departments, with the department showing the outcomes of the students work, rather than just a discussion in a full staff meeting. Illustrating to other departments how the approaches have been implemented encourages teams to talk to each other, and share ideas and approaches.
- Measure impact. Sharing ideas across the departments, and then having feedback in a full staff meeting will enable staff to see the impact their contribution has had across departments.
And don’t forget that meetings don’t just mean sitting in a room; sometimes the best ideas come from a chat over a cup of coffee.