Are your meet­ings a waste of time?

Stop star­ing at the clock and turn them into pro­duc­tive ses­sions

The Hamilton Spectator - - CAREERS - PA­TRI­CIA SA­BA­TINI

For mil­lions of work­ers who at­tend fre­quent meet­ings, the rit­ual gath­er­ings of­ten can feel like a waste of time.

“Peo­ple find meet­ings gen­er­ally to be un­pleas­ant,” said Aimee Kane, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of man­age­ment at Duquesne Univer­sity’s Palumbo Don­ahue School of Busi­ness. “Meet­ings can be no­to­ri­ous for wast­ing time.” But it doesn’t have to be that way. Be­cause of di­verse back­grounds and ideas, dis­cussing prob­lems and goals in a group set­ting can be a valu­able way to get things done. Too of­ten, meet­ings fall apart be­cause they aren’t struc­tured cor­rectly, ex­perts say.

For starters, they should have a clear pur­pose that’s com­mu­ni­cated to par­tic­i­pants in ad­vance so ev­ery­one has time to pre­pare, Kane said.

It’s also im­por­tant to use tech­niques to en­cour­age equal par­tic­i­pa­tion, such as call­ing on ev­ery­one in the room in turn. Oth­er­wise, “Be­cause of rank or per­son­al­ity, one per­son might dom­i­nate the meet­ing,” she said.

Nisha Nair, clin­i­cal as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion at the Univer­sity of Pitts­burgh’s Katz Grad­u­ate School of Busi­ness, ad­vo­cates “brain writ­ing,” in which all par­tic­i­pants write ideas on in­dex cards that are then cir­cu­lated to the group.

The tech­nique helps coun­ter­act “group think,” or the de­sire to main­tain anonymity in groups, which tends to stop peo­ple from speak­ing up and shar­ing their true opin­ions, she said.

Brain writ­ing “forces ev­ery­one to be en- gaged and gen­er­ates more ideas,” she said.

It’s also help­ful to write ideas on a board so peo­ple re­mem­ber them, and then rank them, Kane said. That way, “You see what peo­ple re­ally pre­fer, not just who is talk­ing the loud­est.”

In gen­eral, meet­ing f ace-to-f ace will be more pro­duc­tive than con­fer­ence calls or email dis­cus­sions, which are prone to mis­un­der­stand­ings, Kane said.

It’s also im­por­tant to re­duce the fre­quency of meet­ings by han­dling sim­ple tasks out­side of the room. For ex­am­ple, use email to cir­cu­late in­for­ma­tion or get peo­ple to sign off on a project, she said.

“I think the frus­tra­tion with meet­ings has to do with the lim­i­ta­tions of the hu­man mind to process in­for­ma­tion and do it in a so­cial set­ting,” Kane said. “That’s why when we struc­ture them, we get bet­ter re­sults.”

For net­work­ing pro­fes­sional Berny Dohrmann the most crit­i­cal in­gre­di­ent is set­ting up a sys­tem of re­wards to rec­og­nize em­ploy­ees’ con­tri­bu­tions.

“Too many meet­ings are or­ga­nized around pun­ish­ment — ‘Sales are down and we have to get them up or you are fired,’” said Dohrmann, who knows a bit about pun­ish­ment, hav­ing spent 18 months in fed­eral prison in the mid-1990s in con­nec­tion with a de­faulted junk bond.

“Find ways to use praise and recog­ni­tion (for per­form­ers) and oth­ers will con­form to get the praise,” said Dohrmann.

Too many meet­ings are or­ga­nized around pun­ish­ment. BERNY DOHRMANN


One way to en­gage peo­ple at meet­ings: Ask par­tic­i­pants to write down ideas on in­dex cards, then cir­cu­late them to the group.

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