As officers in KSE Board, most of us may be holding meetings and are attending meetings convened by others. Even though we are not critical about our own meetings ,most of us may have stories to tell about victims of horrible meetings. I remember my own sufferings at Distribution Division conferences. They may not start at time. They may not end at time as well.
All these thoughts came to my mind while I read a book titled Read this before our next meeting:-The modern meeting standard written by Sri. Al Pittampalli published by the Penguin Books India Pvt.Ltd. The cover price of the book is Rs.250/-.It is available online for Rs. 168/-. The book contains 73 pages. Before buying, it may seems that the book is somewhat overpriced but after going through the book you will be convinced about your purchase.
This book explains what is wrong with our meetings and our traditional meeting culture and also gives various suggestions to make meetings more effective and worthy of attending ie. The modern meeting.
He started the book with an account on the traditional meeting culture in our organizations. All of us are accustomed to long meetings, boring meetings, meetings lacking a clear purpose. And the undeniable fact is that there are too many meetings and more than that there are too many bad meetings. Over time this become a culture in most of our organizations. The holders as well as the attendees are nonchalant about these bad meetings. Other than wasting time, the most dangerous aspect of this meeting culture is that slowly this meeting culture has changed the employees, changed how they focus, what they focus on and what decisions they make.
Most of our lower level meetings are of status reporting type and hence cannot be treated like a modern meeting as described in this book. But some of the principles he laid out in this book will invariably help us to improve our meeting culture .In fact knowing the modern meeting principles and preaching it will change our style of administration.
In traditional meetings no strong decisions are made or are defended. It allows the participants to pass off responsibility too easily. Even if a game changing/revolutionary idea is brought into our meetings there won't be anyone to take ownership or to take responsibility for it. Instead there may be more attackers. The idea may get ignored. The traditional meetings creates a culture of compromise. Most of our Executives are afraid of taking independent decisions. They are afraid of making wrong decisions. Al says taking a wrong decision is sometimes more better than to make no decision.
Traditional meetings are convened now and then on some urgency(false urgency), which is like the breaking news in our news channels. At the end of the meeting, we came to know that there was no real urgency like the news which was not at all breaking. This false urgency dominates over importance. People are forced to quit important work they are in to attend those false urgent meetings losing the tempo of their work.
The traditional meetings have become a tool to delay decisions. During pressing situations, instead of taking tough decisions we schedule future meetings. This is the readily available way of doing and is also socially acceptable. They provide a forum for gathering more and more intelligence indefinitely and the emotional assurance from surrounding ourselves with others alleviates the fear. This does not guarantee a good outcome but leads to a culture of indecisiveness. This indecisiveness is what which kills our organizations. According to Al, most of such meetings serve the purpose of just an E Mail, memo or a phone call.
According to him the modern meeting is a special instrument that exists for only one reason. To support decisions. The author describes the seven principles of modern meeting in detail.
1. Hold the meeting to support a decision that has already been made: A meeting shall be convened only after making a preliminary decision. If a decision maker needs advice before taking the decision, do not commence a meeting. He can get it from others personally through one on one conversations. Overplanning and gathering information more than that are required are traps the decision maker has to avoid diligently. A meeting might be necessary for either of the two reasons.
1.1. conflict: in traditional meetings the attendees may hesitate to voice their opinions. But a modern meeting is held only for the purpose of dissent. The decision holder has to come with open mind . It does not mean that he should compromise but he should be moveable. If you are autocratic enough not to alter your decisions, then no meeting is necessary.
1.2. Co ordination: if the resulting action of a decision is straight forward no need to have a meeting . Otherwise the decision demands complex collaboration from different teams and departments and a meeting can be convened to coordinate an action play.
2. Start on time, move fast, ends on schedule: Traditional meetings are like television serials. They may not end at all. The modern meeting starts on time and ends in time. Why meetings not end in time is because there are no deadlines. Strong deadlines forces parties to resolve the hard decisions necessary for progress. With too much time, even the most unshakable decision will be reconsidered. More time leads to more doubts, more doubts leads to more anxiety, more anxiety makes the decision fall apart. Even if some one is late, start the meeting without them.
3. Limit the number of attendees: Invite the people who are absolutely necessary for resolving the decisions of the meetings. This is because if you invite more people, the number of actual agreements that needs to take place rises exponentially .So don't worry to hurt peoples sentiments. Meetings are not marriage receptions.
The reverse of this is also necessary. If one has no strong opinion ,no interest in the outcome of the meeting , not instrumental for any coordination that needs to take place he may be given the freedom to decline the invitation to attend the meeting.
4. Reject the unprepared people: A traditional meeting does not expect preparation from the part of attendees. It is redundant or a waste of time. In a modern meeting, both the meeting holder and the attendees should prepare for the meeting. The meeting leader should prepare an agenda. Agenda involves the following.
- Objectives of the meeting( state the problem, its alternatives and the decision).
- Who all should be invited.
- What they should bring(outline the sort of feedback requested)
- The duration of the meeting
- A statement showing the possible outcome of the meeting
Do not encourage discussion on topics not covered in the agenda. The attendees should carefully think through all the different scenarios presented by the decision and come out with thoughtful responses. If someone comes out unprepared either cancel the meeting or conduct the meeting without them.
5. Committed action plans: Unlike in a traditional meeting where everything happened in the meeting are recorded in minutes, the modern meeting records only the decision and its action plan. If an attendee does not receive an action plan from a meeting Al says that he has every right not to attend the next meeting by the same meeting holder. It is the responsibility of the meeting holder to make sure that the action plans are committed by the attendees.
6. Meeting should not be informational( Reading memos is mandatory): In order to keep modern meetings strictly in support of decisions the informational meetings has to be cancelled. To make this possible, managers will write memos. Everyone in the organization must commit to reading the memos. If there is a culture of reading memos the informational meetings are no longer necessary.
7. Nurture a culture of brainstorming: While the modern meeting tries to narrow the options and zero in on to decisions , the brainstorming session tries to explore all the possible options. It is in fact an anti meeting. But the brainstorming sessions are necessary to find out the possible alternatives. The attendees can conduct brainstorming sessions before the meeting .And they can come to the meeting with adequate options.
Al concludes the book telling us that even if we are not able to control all the meetings we attend , we can take a step forward towards controlling the way the system encourages and defines meeting. He wants us to realize that the present system is wrong, and motivates us to adopt the modern meeting culture. Sooner those around us will also join us. He also reminds that do not expect a change in the senior leadership. Atleast do your meetings this way .Persuade atleast one colleage,one subordinate, one boss to adopt the same.
The book is written with an extra ordinary lucidity and elegance. There is nothing verbose and also no technical jargon. My request to all those who are going to hold another meeting soon is to just read read this before (y)our next meeting.