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- BRW. lounge
Published 09 May 2012 16:36, Updated 11 May 2012 12:04
A former senior manager in the private sector recently took up a director’s position with the Victorian public service. She heads a unit of 40 people or so and to her horror has discovered that her primary function seems to be attending meetings.
Coming from the corporate world she is no stranger to useless meetings but she has been amazed to find that if she wanted to, she could attend meetings all day. Unfortunately, that is precisely what some of her public service colleagues do. One of her first priorities has been to reduce the number of departmental and interdepartmental meetings she has to attend and likewise to wean her staff members from attending unnecessary meetings.
Meetings are an entrenched feature of the public service and, although not to the same extent in the corporate sector, in many companies as well. To put it mildly, I am not a fan of meetings.
They are often an end in themselves and generally are decision-free and action-free zones. Their contribution to organisational performance, strategic enlightenment and the generation of ideas is at best negligible. More than meetings per se, it’s the culture of meetings – when the habit of meetings becomes deeply ingrained – that can have a corrosive effect on organisations.
Pertinent, well-structured, engaging and artfully chaired meetings can inform, inspire, solve problems, produce ideas, consider options, assign tasks and set goals. They can foster collegiality and collaboration. They can but most don’t.
Managers who understand the true worth of meetings are not beholden to compulsory schedules of meetings. These managers are not afraid to say, “We don’t need a meeting this week”. If the meeting must be held, the first question of the manager chairing the meeting should be: “Do we need to have this meeting?” To ensure that meetings don’t drag on needlessly, prolonged by mindless prattle to fill the allotted time, it is prudent to shorten meeting times. Instead of the usual one-hour duration, opt for 45 or even 30 minutes. If you’re really in a no-nonsense frame of mind, have the meetings standing up.
And finally, managers who do not want to alienate employees who would rather not be there should never start the meeting with an entreaty to hug the person to your left or attempt to lead the assembly in a rousing chorus of team singing.