Yesterday was a day of meetings. It was management Wednesday after all. I started at nine and finished at five with a few minutes in the middle for lunch. I know that’s not a particularly long day but keeping focussed for such a period is an achievement in itself. I was mentally exhausted by the time I got home.
We’ve changed the focus of our Senior Leadership Team meetings and this week it was targeted on people. What I have tried to do is to have fewer reports that end up being rubber stamped and make more time for talking through the issues we have. And we have many things to cover. We could have a month of meetings and still not run out of topics.
But meetings which are all talk are different in nature to those with lots of reports. They are much harder to manage or control. Indeed the very thing to be avoided is control. Instead the attendees need to be encouraged to engage in the dialogue and put forward their opinions. Not that my team need much encouragement. Shy bairns they are not.
No reports means that there is nothing to read, with nothing to hide behind or to find fault with. You have to be in play. Keeping track of the discussions is a challenge as well. Making sure that you capture the salient points, the pros and cons, the interesting bits and the disagreements takes great skill in order to be able to summarise what was covered and draw out the action points. Not one that always comes easily.
So if they take more effort and are more difficult to manage, why bother? Because they deliver better results. My feeling is that meetings which are highly organised, with agendas and reports can lead to discussion taking place outside of the meeting. Deals are struck, reports amended and decisions made before they come anywhere near the leadership body as a whole. Those that have an interest in the subject will take note and bypass, intentionally or note those that don’t. By the time the meeting arrives things may well be sown up which disenfranchises those not directly involved.
In a meeting which is predominantly talk the opposite is true. No one can be outside the tent. Everyone has to contribute. Opinions can be formed and altered through engagement and dialogue. The whole group gets to form a collective opinion and a better buy in to the actions agreed. This does not mean that all is sweetness and light. Disagreement will still arise but it can be addressed there and then and not allowed to fester.
Of course there is a place for highly organised meetings or there is a danger that nothing gets decided. When everything is said and done a lot will be said and nothing will be done. There is a time for talk and a time for action yet there is no substitute for open and honest dialogue before coming to a conclusion on a subject.
Decisions may take longer to get to but they are better accepted and will ultimately lead to better outcomes. This kind of meetings are hard work though.