If You’re Going to Call a Meeting

this meeting could have been an email

Are there any questions?’

This was how things began… During the week I was required to attend a meeting, along with 30 other people in the same trade area. I don’t want to identify the hosts of the meeting as they are nice people and I don’t want to shame them. But I drove 90 minutes thru morning traffic to be at this required meeting, and arrived on time.

The meeting was regarding some upcoming work in the industry I am just moving out of – but I wanted to take the new owners so that they could be up to speed with the program and also so they could make connections.

At 9am with 30 of us present (as it was compulsory) the hosts of the meeting sat at the back of the room and one of them walked to front and said ‘Hi everyone – glad you could make it. So let’s begin – any questions?’

‘About what?’ I was thinking.

This is not how to begin a meeting. NEVER begin a meeting with that tack. And don’t sit at the back of the room where people cannot see you. Many of us had travelled a considerable distance or given up other commitments to be present so we were expecting a sharp concise presentation around the key areas of the program we were going to be working on.

‘Any questions?’ was all it took for one bloke to unload a vast dump of frustration around an ongoing industry issue. He came in swinging and wasn’t keen to be pacified. While the issue is a real and ongoing challenge it meant 29 of us sat and listened to him vent and after 20 minutes we were still at the same point.

Eventually someone else in the room who I didn’t know spoke loudly calling ‘time to move on!’ His frustration was evident. This meeting wasn’t going well.

From there the hosts continued to field random questions from the back of the room until eventually one of them stepped forward to present a new idea on the screen. It was a good idea and a great improvement on previous years. But the tone had been set and the room felt a little edgy. I tried to move things in a more positive direction by complimenting the host on this new innovation which will definitely make life easier – but there wasn’t much positivity around to connect with.

As the clock came around to the hour, another member of the host team spoke: ‘We should probably have led with this, but… here is the purpose of our meeting and here is why we have called you together.’

She was clear and precise – just 59 minutes too late!

By that point the meeting had felt like a mix of argy bargy, niggles and gripes aired with little direction nor apparent resolution. 

We finished around 10am and then fortunately there was some good time spent connecting.

No one meant for the meeting to feel so aimless, dreary and conflicted – but because no one took a lead the whole thing drifted in the direction of the loudest voices.

Please… if you are going to call a meeting in any organisation then lead the meeting and clarify the purpose early. When you are gathering people and asking a significant amount of time from them you have a responsibility to use that time well.

A good meeting can facilitate great outcomes and can inspire people to embrace new ideas or a bad one can leave people feeling like their time was wasted and that the next time a meeting is called they will ensure they are unavailable.

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