I was recently asked to run a training session on leading meetings. My first question was – why? Well actually it was a series of questions to establish the business need, training need, preferred style of delivery etc, etc.
The programme was a great success. I designed it to be very light on theory with the majority of time given over to practical exercises and facilitated discussions to share, tips, tools and techniques to deal with difficult participants, people turning up late, people talking too much or too little, people hijacking the meeting and other specific issues the participants had.
This experience reminded me that most people can write a list of what constitutes best practice in holding meetings and yet they are rarely followed! Why is that? What is the real issue? I have found that organisational culture and nationality have a big part to play. Some years ago undertook a piece of work, relating to Chairing Meetings which was both interesting and very rewarding.
I was running a three day project management programme for a medium sized Insurance company. One session was on project meetings. Three small groups were asked to write a list of best practice guidelines for holding meetings. This they did easily. The three lists were pretty similar and the best practice points were essentially the same as any you would find in literature on the subject. The rest of the session was spent expanding on the points raised and addressing the participant’s specific issues.
After the course a director, who had attended, collared me and stated that the majority of meetings in the company did not follow best practice guidelines, the majority were a waste of time, the biggest problem was the Chairing of meetings which was mostly done my senior managers and could I help.
Following a lengthy discussion we concluded that the target audience were the Chief Exec, Directors and senior managers, they probably wouldn’t attend a ‘training’ course and wouldn’t see the need to change what they were doing! The proposal I put forward and which we implemented was fairly creative and ultimately very effective.
The first step was to create a compelling reason to Chair meetings differently. The organisation was relatively small, about 1000 people. I designed a short survey which was sent to all members of staff asking questions related to the frequency, purpose, quality and effectiveness of the meetings they attended. From the data analysis I was able to put a cost on holding meetings, which was astronomical, and clearly demonstrate that most people thought they were a waste of time (and the reasons they thought that) and that the biggest issue was the way in which meetings were Chaired. Having presented the results to the executive team and gained their commitment to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of meetings we moved on to the next phase – transformation.
This was launch by communicating the results of the survey and explaining that for one month only all meetings would be evaluated against a set of criteria based on best practice. Best practice guidelines were also developed and printed onto posters, drinks mats and name cards and made available in every meeting room. The evaluation was a simple ‘happy sheet’ which was handed out and completed at the end of the meeting and left for the chair to collect, review and forward to Organisational Development who were the owners of the project. They collated the results and could offer support to Chair’s if it looked like they needed it. With Chair’s getting instant feedback on their performance the quality of meetings began to improve immediately.
Six months after the one month ‘blitz’ on meetings the survey was run again which clearly showed improvement in the Chairing of meetings, quality, efficiency and effectiveness of meetings. Once again it was possible to put a cost on holding meetings which had reduced dramatically and clearly showed a return on investment for the project.
A creative, innovative and effective solution to the problem of too many poorly Chaired b****y meetings.