On Improving Organized Meetings
By Roy D.
© 2002 by RDFollendoreIII
any organization acts to improve meetings, it must first be clearly understood
that meetings represent a very large investment for your organization.
Before you consider making changes to your existing meetings first calculate the cost
of meetings over the whole year so that the expense of planning to agree to
act will be respected as much as the action. To do this simply take
the sum of the individual hourly salaries of people involved and multiply the
yearly number of hours for a typical meeting and add in all of
the overhead. Next, calculate the savings that could be made if
meetings were made 20% more efficient. Now separately consider what
savings could be made if the now 20% more efficient meetings were also 20% more effective.
The result of a 20% more efficient AND 20% more effective meeting is far
more than 20% cost savings. Put those numbers down in writing as immediate
goals because you can achieve much better than 20%.
Ask yourself the purpose of business meetings. If all meetings
are primarily brain storming sessions then something is wrong with meeting
planning, decision-making and delegation of leadership. If some
meetings are never setup for brainstorming then something is
wrong with planning cycle related to problem solving, delegation, team, and
consensus building. If meetings are primarily social activities then
something is wrong with the internal group leadership. If meetings are to
review or micromanage, every decision made then something is wrong with
leadership delegation of authority, responsibility. If meetings are
overwhelming then something is fundamentally wrong with the organizational
planning and leadership process.
meetings have good meeting leaders. There is the
meeting leader that develops, organizes, and coordinates the meeting agenda
prior to the meeting.
There is the agenda leader that sees that the meeting is proceeding to
meet the agenda effectively and efficiently. The meeting
leader and the agenda leader may or may not be the same individual. The role of
the meeting leader is to assure that all of the issues exist on the meeting
role of the agenda leader is to assure that the issues are handled as
effectively as possible given the meeting schedule. The point is that the
scheduling of the meeting is a fundamental issue existing within the meeting
agenda, not outside of it. It is
therefore a central problem to be solved through the meeting.
The primary issue that all of these
problems have in common is the loss of control of meetings primarily
by not defining both the purpose and value of meetings in
specific agenda developed in cooperation with the key participants in
advance was never achieved. The
distribute that agenda and circulation of background material, documents or
articles prior to the meeting so members are prepared, feel involved and are
up-to-date in advance did not take place. A culture
was not created that recognized that meetings are for limited concise review and
decision-making and not for learning by the seat of your pants.
Lectures and conferences are for that.
Another problem is that if these
problems exist, there is an underlying disrespect for other’s
group might forget to choose an appropriate meeting time so that there
is a set a time limit and/or they do not stick to that limit.
They do not include breaks every hour. They do not assure that breaks get
progressively more often and longer if the meeting drags on longer than
it was forgotten that members of meetings would be far more productive if the
meeting structure itself is geared to be productive, predictable and that
meetings are as short as possible.
There are three choices for getting
people together that which be decided in advance.
Briefings occur when a leader requests information so that he can
be informed to make decisions at a gathering.
Meetings occur when the leader delegates much or even most of the
leadership for interacting at the gathering, often in his/her presence.
Marathons occur when a group of people gets together to see who
can endure the activities they are performing together over the largest
distances and the longest available time.
Often a meeting is put together when
a briefing should actually have been organized. In far too
many cases, Marathons are too often chosen when meetings should have taken
Some time ago I noticed that there
seemed to be stages built into meetings, so I gave those stages their own names. If there is
a need for a meeting, then the members need to be aware that these meeting
stages exist. These
different stages to meetings should be definitely recognized by the meeting’s
agenda leader so that the meeting schedule can be maintained. He/she
should be aware that they could occur in any order and sometimes can take place
A lecture stage is when a member of the group professes facts,
statistics, and everyone else listens. The
influence for decisions is information, presence, and articulation.
A conference stage is when a number of leaders profess facts and
opinions taking turns in a predetermined order and members of the meeting group
take notes, listen, and learn. The primary
influences for decisions in this stage are a combination of positional
authority, charisma and the best case
A debate stage is when a group argues perspectives in an attempt
to influence each other’s opinions. The primary
influences for decisions in this stage is charisma, facts available on hand,
presence, articulation, the sensitively and control of group dynamics. The
A brainstorming stage is when a group creatively introduces ideas,
opinions, and concepts for creating new solutions. The primary
influence for decisions in this stage are creative intelligence, charisma,
articulation, presence, and sensitive cooperative timing.
A lightening storm stage is when a brainstorm turns into a debate
sometimes ending in a lecture and hard feelings. A lightening
storm is usually a meeting that has gone off track, although it can sometimes
serve the necessary purposes of eliminating members, and halting unnecessary or
unproductive meetings. The primary
influences in this stage are charisma and positional authority.
A big problem is that meeting
groups may not choose establish a meeting leader to create effective
meetings or they refuse to rotate that role. They did not
arrange the room so that members face each in order that more effective physical
communication takes place. The meeting agenda leader may not be
keeping the group on task. A common
problem is the choice of the meeting location. Meetings are
too often unsuitable to the group’s size. Small stuffy
rooms with too many people create tension that delay and confuse the agenda. Larger rooms are
not only more comfortable; they encourage individual expression and allow
members to get the point across without feeling treating. Participants
at meetings may not be greeting members and making them feel welcome. This may be
particularly true for late members with legitimate reasons for being tardy. The meeting
places may not be varied so that the same feelings of previous meetings are
being repeated without awareness.
If you want to get your meetings
productive, you will need to invite new or occasional members. If you
already do this, you may not be getting good results because new meeting members may
not be accommodated or introduced. By the end
of each meeting, be sure everyone knows where and when the next meeting will be
held. Serve light refreshments; they are good icebreakers and make your
new or occasional members feel special and your regular members comfortable.
Use visual aids for interest,
including posters, projected diagrams, to increase the efficiency and
productivity of meetings. A large
agenda that remains up front and center, and to which members can refer will
help the group focus and stay on track. Putting a piece of paper with that
same agenda in their hands is complementary and useful but not a replacement. Review the
agenda that is up front at the beginning of the meeting and establish
priorities within that agenda at the beginning of the meeting.
The agenda leader should concisely state what was achieved and what was not
achieved at the end of the meeting.
Stick to the agenda to effectively
solve problems. Stick to the schedule to effectively solve problems. If new
issues come up, then create a new agenda for future meetings or adjust the
existing one. If
you must adjust the existing agenda, the rule should be that it must not affect
the scheduled length of the existing meeting. It is
important to start meetings on time but above all else, be sure to get in the
habit of ending meetings on time. New meetings
can always be scheduled. Familiarity
of meeting place, people, and time can mean that they become social occasions
rather than solution occasions so they lose their decisive edge. Meetings
become like protective bubbles. It is too
easy to forget that the meetings should always be less important than the
decisions and the solutions. Often
difficult problems that are being talked about in meetings are better resolved
out of meetings.
Most meetings should be less than
two hours long. Movies are less than two hours for a reason. Soldiers on
guard duty have two-hour shifts for a reason. Factory
workers get breaks every two hours or less for a reason. College
classes and conferences are often in two-hour sessions for a reason. Meetings
more than two hours long become progressively nonproductive. Psychological
studies have shown that human beings loose comprehension with longer periods of
intense concentration. Perception
if affected fatigue to the extent that individuals are unable to see events take
place around them.
The decisions that are made in meetings that are over two hours long
are less insightful, less decisive and is cohesive in the sense that there is a
greater tendency for the group to agree in order to get the meeting
over rather than to achieve the best solution. Remember that three
individual two-hour meetings are better than one six-hour meeting.
Meetings are organized
communication activities that are meant to be informative, and decisive about
the relationship of problems and solutions. Meetings in
and of themselves are the first problem and are the foremost problem of
realizing organizational success. They can be
a means to achieving organized productivity or a barrier to obtaining the best
you introduce the management of your meetings with these essential concepts in
mind, then you will have taken hold of tremendous opportunities for you and your
Roy Follendore III holds a Master of Science in
Communication, a B.S. in Liberal Studies Electronics, and a B.F.A. in Photography.
He has researched, developed and patented sophisticated
communication software and hardware systems for organizations and has
both been responsible for and attended more than his share of useless
meetings in Government and Industry. He
has lectured and taught about the importance of managing organizational change
with technical change at the CIA and teaches advanced graduate topics
as an adjunct Professor at George Mason University. Roy is an
outspoken advocate of improving human communication and decision making within
technical and executive meetings of organizations, and is available for speaking
engagements and teaching some of the lessons, he has learned over the years. You may contact him through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 One thing to remember is that the first three can be reasonably scheduled and managed within the meeting agenda. The last two can be vital to success of finding and agreeing upon the best solutions and it is important to allow a certain amount of time within a regular meeting schedule for these stages. However, these stages often need to be either taken “off-line” as a sidebar process during the meeting, or scheduled as possible independent or “off-site” sessions.
Copyright (c) 2001-2007 RDFollendoreIII All Rights Reserved