We were waiting outside the director’s meeting room in the upper floor of North Tyneside’s office in Cobalt. It was some time ago yet I can recall it vividly. A colleague of mine and I were waiting to be called into a meeting with the directors and neither of us had warmed to the prospect. I don’t know what it is about joining a meeting that is in full swing, especially when the people are used to working together. It can be an aggressive and unwelcoming environment. My colleague and I had been kept waiting past our allotted slot and that added to our general discomfort. Waiting always puts me on edge.
I turned to him and asked how he was feeling about the meeting. ‘That depends’ he said, ‘on whether we are buying or selling.’ We laughed. He always was too clever for his own good yet he was right. How you feel when you meet someone depends upon the position you find yourself in.
I considered what he said. Were we going there to tell them something that was going to happen or to ask them for permission? Were we trying to persuade them or cajole them into a specific action or were they waiting for us to arrive to unburden their woes upon us? Had they even given us any thought at all? Why would it matter? It did because how we approached the meeting would determine its outcome.
I’ve never been great at preparing for meetings. I’m never sure if it is something you should do way in advance or do on the fly. I suppose a mixture of both is best. I like to get the agenda out a week in advance and any associated reports out in time for people to read them. I’m sure that not everyone does though. I don’t particularly like reports. I think they stifle a meeting by reducing discussion and directing the conversation down a predetermined route. If you have an issue to discuss, preparing a report in advance will set the direction and tone and allow things to be stitched up before the meeting starts. Perhaps that’s the point I’m missing.
On reflection it is the focus on the mechanics that turns me off. Meetings have to be about more than agendas, minutes, reports and seating plans. Instead we should concentrate on purpose, outcomes and debate. If we don’t then meetings become facades, or a palliative to make it look like the organisation is functioning well.
We are getting towards the end of the year. I think I only have a dozen or so more of these blogs to write so perhaps it is time to think of resolutions. I’m going to resolve to try that bit harder with meetings. No, I’m not going to do better agendas but yes, I’m going to try and write better reports. What I am going to concentre on however is getting myself into character depending upon what it is that I’m trying to do. What is my role in the meeting? How do I want it to play out?
Am I buying or selling?