Barry Shannon: Reassessing the tactics for your company's meetings . . .

Barry Shannon

THERE was a story in the papers a while ago, taken from Dwight Yorke’s autobiography, about how Roy Keane once asked his kit manager to set up a tactics board for an after-match meeting, following a Sunderland loss.

Once the players were in and settled, Keane then apparently smashed the board with a martial arts style kick to illustrate his displeasure.

Not all meetings are that exciting. There is an old saying that ‘meetings are where minutes are kept and hours are lost’ and I would defy anyone reading this article to say they have not experienced one, or many, of these. Be it at work, on a football committee or elsewhere; the end product is too often the same, wasted time.

So how could we actually use meetings more productively? Let’s look at the fundamental principles, ie they should not only be efficient, but also effective.

First thing to do is take a step back and ask the most important question: do we actually need a meeting in the first place? Could an email, quick phone call, or WhatsApp group produce the same results?

Next step (on the basis we do need a meeting) is to carefully consider the medium. Do we need people physically together or can it be done remotely? Do we need cameras, or can folks dial in on their phones?

Then you should carefully curate the attendance. Bring only people who actively need to be there. Too often a scattergun approach creates death by a thousand cuts. More people typically result in more talk, more sidebars, more opinions, but potentially less achieved. Be harsh with the guest list.

Think about the mix though. Don’t just assemble a confirmation bias support group. Seek opinion and challenge as appropriate

Make sure you and all the other participants understand well in advance what the purpose of the meeting is. Is it to be creative and innovate? Is it to make a decision? Is it to inform? Is it to consult? Is it to analyse? There are many reasons for meetings and people need to be able to prepare adequately for them, both practically and mentally.

Be inclusive. Some folks are naturally gregarious and can be utter time thieves. Ensure that the quiet, the introverted, have an opportunity to talk and share ideas.

Control distractions: phones, laptops, tablets etc. If they are not required, then stable them.

Make sure that any actions you absolutely, positively need done before the meeting have been chased up beforehand. It’s rarely productive to call someone out during a meeting because they have not got something done. They disengage immediately. Check in advance where they are at with things and administer any ‘motivation’ at that point.

Issue an agenda, in advance and stick to it. That way priorities are identified, and participants can see what the outcome(s) are supposed to look like. Then manage the time. Start promptly (use a three-minute rule if necessary), keep things moving (don’t allow navel gazing to start) and most importantly: finish on time. Here’s another tip: there is no rule that says they need to be 30-60 minutes long. Short, sharp and effective is the key.

During the meeting: keep returning focus to outcomes. Ensure minutes are taken and actions assigned. If there is a follow up you should be able to anticipate some form of progress, not just a rinse and repeat of the first meeting. Everyone should come away from the meeting knowing exactly what next steps are and what is expected of them personally.

Ultimately, as Lois Wyse once said, ‘meetings are too long, too dull, too unproductive and too much a part of corporate life to be abandoned’, so they will always be a part of working life. If that’s the case then why not at least try to make them productive.

Maybe one day however you’ll be lucky though and come in to see a tactics board set up in the corner….

:: Barry Shannon is Head of HR at STATSports.

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