Meetings are held, in business entities, to achieve results. The results could relate to quantitative direction of the organization or could be in the realm of the non-numerical. The discussion on numbers relating to capex, budget, financial projection and performance will constitute the quantitative aspect of an entity’s existence and future growth. The debate on strategy, new products, services and quality of human resources, will be within the ambit of the non-quantitative. The discussion on numbers is always more precise, with greater exactitude, then a discussion on non-numeric data and information.
Meetings that are held to discuss the non-quantifiable are the most challenging for the chairperson to control. It is generally believed that the squeaking wheel gets the grease, hence we find participants in any meetings, jumping over each others’ heads & shoulders, to promote their understanding of any issue. Here, the inherit nature of the concept of meeting has the tendency to lead to commentary that leads to nowhere; because there are no identifiable, quantitative mile-stones. It actually has the potential to fall within the ambit of philosophy and hence can provoke uncontrollable flight of imagination of the discussants. If it is free for all, and nothing else; it is unlikely to produce any result.
There are several good reasons for the need to hold meetings. One of these could be for reason of sharing information. Meetings are used as a medium of communication of good and bad news. How much to share is a decision of the chairperson. Personally, I believe not all and everything should be shared. The necessary and the relevant should form the basis of disclosure. Birds are entangled by their feet and men by their tongue. Babbling is rarely without offence, and consequently is of no value.
Another popular reason for holding meetings is to take decisions. But should decisions await the holding of meeting? And, if a manager would take this route most of the time, for say his strategy, it is likely that discussions will get to the extent of being boringly irrelevant. When all men speak, no man hears. So the best way to do is to use meetings for decisions only when there is an assurance that all participants have come to the meeting fully prepared.
Meetings can be for brain storming, on the launch of say a new product or introduction of a new process for greater efficiency.
In doing so , it best to bear in mind, “no grand idea was ever born in conference(meeting) but a lot of foolish ideas have died therein”.(F. Scott fitzgerald). Meetings aren’t meant to generate “ideas”, it must be to deliberate the “idea”.
Relationship building is another major reason for holding meetings. Here, the chairman must necessarily listen more and talk less. Unfortunately most chairpersons close their ears and open their mouths, too often; while it should be exactly reverse of such approach. He, who gives fair words, feeds the audience with empty spoons. In such meetings, the chairperson must give recognition to significant players, encourage and motivate them; Express interest by asking for updates on project or listen with patience to the impediments and stumbling blocks being faced. Those who know, speak the least. Chairperson’s reaction should be measured and controlled. The tongue has no bones, but has the nuclear capability of breaking many. Then there are inspirational meetings. In these meetings it is expected of the chairperson to drive colleagues to venture upon themselves and find areas of strength to deploy and discover areas of weakness, to plug them. Inspire to identify goals, both personal and organizational. The language of inspiration always has to be soft. Never use threat: especially if you cannot bite, never show your teeth.
There can be several other positive reasons for calling meetings, and more specifically like to negotiate a deal, to instruct and educate or to merely create homogeneity and camaraderie.
This scribe admits that meetings actually can be virtuous. Alternatively, they are a corporate necessity or even the unavoidable corporate devil that we have to accept regardless of personal views, either positive or negative. We have to embrace the concept of meeting.
With this noble view about meetings, I ran recently into a discussion with a senior colleague about the merits and demerits of having meetings in corporate settings. Initially, what I thought of as a discussion on a plane of humor, turned out eventually for me, to do a complete and severely penetrating dissection of the reason of why meetings are called?
Meetings are purposely designed to persist with one man’s agenda is a conclusion we made. Both of us had that child like wry smile that kept dancing on our face, although with brief intervals, but which were never short, in reflecting to any on- looker, the mischievously humorous intent. Of the reasons we discussed, why meetings are called, I will recall some for this piece:
• There is nothing better to do.
• It is the best way to waste time.
• The quantum of work is less than available time.
• A decision taken in isolation has to be endorsed. For “real decisions”, the committee’s size shrinks to a single person and to talk humbug, the meeting has numerous attendees; or is called when no decision is to be taken.
• To feel important; call a meeting to massage own ego. Such is done for an arrogant chairperson.
The length of meetings rise with the square of the number of people present. Meetings end up in minutes, for which hours are spent. Meetings are hurled upon staff by the egoistical and narcissist leader at odd times and usually for no good reason. “ you don’t lead by hitting people over the head — that’s assault, not leadership.” In conclusion, meetings are always between the unwanting, the undesired for discussion on the unnecessary.