Meetings are held every single day all over the world by companies, professional organisations, clubs, societies, neighbourhood associations and the like. Many people who have to attend these meetings simply dread having to attend yet another badly managed and boring meeting. Have you ever wondered why so many people universally hate attending meetings?
Poor Time Management
There are many reasons for this reluctance to attend a meeting. For one, in this part of the world, it is rare for a meeting to start on time. The chairman inevitably has to wait for the usual group of late comers to arrive. He needs a quorum in order to have a valid, proper meeting. This waiting indefinitely then becomes an unnecessary imposition and bother to those who had the decency and good sense to arrive in time for a productive meeting. More than that this group of responsible individuals are seemingly penalised by having to wait for their ‘ imperial majesties ‘ to make a grand but distinctly late arrival.
Another side effect to a late start to a meeting is that it then runs much longer than intended. Busy people with many other responsibilities in the cities cannot afford this sort of poorly planned meeting schedule. It leaves them with no choice but to excuse themselves from the meeting, half or three quarters of the way through the meeting.
Sometimes the meetings are simply delayed, time and time again, because the chairman is just too ‘ busy ‘ to turn up on time. Mind you, this prima donna was the one who called for the meeting but because of his rank and position in the company or organisation, these employees have to wait unproductively for his grand, late arrival. Often he may offer a trite, meaningless apology but nobody buys it. He has somehow managed to sabotage his own meeting by making every other person present annoyed with his cavalier and disrespectful attitude.
Briefings instead of Meetings
Often I have come across situations when the organisation actually wanted to conduct a briefing…certainly not a meeting, for its staff or the executive committee. They had wanted all these people to be in a certain place and at a certain time, in order to brief them on some issues. They had no intention of having a meeting as such but were more interested in dishing out information to the hapless attendees. The chairman and the company or club concerned were not interested to hear what the attendees had to say or to answer the questions posed by the attendees. On the attendees’ part, they had every expectation that this was going to be a meeting…not a briefing. Why bother with such so called meetings in the first place, if all you want to do is to ram some information down some docile sheep!
Unwilling to change Style
Then again, sometimes a not so confident and capable chairman who is so used to conducting briefings at his place of work in a government or quasi- government department is singularly unable or unwilling to change his style of chairing meetings. He forgets that his colleagues in the club or society are his peers and he is not their boss. They are less likely to accept everything that he says or proposes and are likely to raise pertinent issues. He may not be used to this type of a proper and intelligent meeting scenario and may start to revert to his preferred briefings style …to the annoyance and irritation of his fellow committee members.
Failure to Follow the Agenda
I have attended meetings where the agenda was not followed. The chairman had abused his position in the body concerned to bring in new agenda items at the meeting itself thus depriving the other members from coming prepared for the discussion. Oftentimes members of such bodies, who are caught unprepared, are not able to think fast and act decisively in such situations. Much later when the seriousness of what had transpired dawns on them, they feel saddened by the behaviour of their chairman.
I have also come across situations where a few disgruntled members were ‘ allowed ‘ to deviate from the agenda. This was tolerated by the chairman because he felt that they needed to ventilate their views! It was, however, in my view an abdication of his responsibility as chairman to keep the meeting on track.
Every proper meeting needs an agreed agenda. This is normally decided by the chairman working in close co-operation with the honorary secretary. The agenda and notice of meeting needs to be sent out to all the members, usually at least two weeks before the meeting. This early notification, offers the members time to prepare their reports as well as to follow up on matters that need their attention. When the meeting is then held there are no surprises because everyone comes prepared for a productive and useful meeting.
De Facto Leaders at Work
I have attended some meetings where the chairman was woefully inadequate and unable to conduct meetings in a professional manner. He was just chairman in name only because the real power brokers were two committee members who exercised more authority than the chairman! They, in turn, directed the discussion, tone and atmosphere at the meeting. They also monopolised all the discussions and this led to the sorry, abject situation where the other so called committee members were reduced to mere, dumb spectators. When a chairman fails to conduct a meeting with dignity and decorum, then this is what will invariably happen.
Role of the Chairman
The main role of a chairman is to see to the smooth, timely and productive functioning of the meeting proper. He should lead by example and not be easily led astray by a few domineering and crafty members. The chairman should never allow these few to dominate the meeting as though their views are the only ones that matter. As chairman, he should see to it that every member present is given a chance to express his views. His failure to do so will render the presence of these non – assertive members at the meeting quite pointless!
The chairman should also let the members know the probable duration of the meeting. I know of a particularly effective chairman who makes a point of taking off his wristwatch and placing it directly in front of him. He then announces that this particular meeting will end in ninety minutes or in some cases, in one hundred and twenty minutes. In his style of meeting management, he sets the tone and style for the meeting and because he keeps his word, members usually have a productive and cordial meeting which always finishes on time, as promised.
Basic Etiquette and Common Courtesy
Furthermore, the chairman should also instruct all members present to place their mobile phones on silent mode. He too should do so in a public show of compliance for the ‘ slow learners ‘. He should also remind them to give their whole, undivided time while at the meeting for the sole purpose of the meeting. Far too many so called educated and professional people seem unable to appreciate this point. They can be seen trying to show their importance by occasionally leaving the meeting room to take a call or to make a call! This is sheer bad manners and reflects negatively on the individual concerned. If everybody at the meeting behaved in such a rude and thoughtless manner, then why bother attending the meeting in the first place.
A meeting can be considered a successful one when all the individuals concerned play their respective roles with responsibility. It is not just the job of the chairman to be effective but also that of each and every member to play his rightful role in a mature, considerate and supportive way. In that way, much can be achieved during the meetings.