How to Confidently Run Meetings Without the Creeping Ennui

Ennui? It’s a French word that means listlessness, langour. Think Daisy Buchanan and Jordan Baker languishing in The Great Gatsby. We’ve been having something of a Long Island-fest lately and exploring every version of The Great Gatsby we can find. Superfans might pick up a few references in the headings!

This blog post is written from the point of view of meeting organisers and chairs who arrange and attend physical meetings where attendees must attend in person.

It’s So Hot, And Everything is Confused

I usually try to highlight what I think is the most important point in my blog posts. This is it: Open the dang window, or door! Almost every meeting I’ve attended has taken place in an airless room. As an HSP, I’ve almost fainted a few times. Take care of your HSPs.

  • There are some nasty things that happen with human aromas when you don’t open the window. I’m just going to leave that hanging in the air.
  • People’s brains stop functioning optimally. And when they stop functioning, people think, speak and decide slower. Slower is not a good thing when it comes to meetings.

There are Only the Pursued, the Pursuing, the Busy and the Tired

First, think carefully whether the meeting could instead take the form of an email, a conference call or a Skype. Then if a meeting is absolutely necessary, implement the following.

  1. Get rid of the circular emails.
  2. Stop requiring everyone and his cat to attend.
  3. Inform only required attendees of the agenda.
  4. State the start and stop time. Finish early.
  5. Learn some Assertiveness techniques to shut down the pontificators.
  6. Reduce minutes (if any) to bullet point decision summaries, together with dated, assigned tasks. Send it to the invitees only. Assume they will forward it on to anyone else who needs it.

Once in a While I Go Off on a Spree

You know the type. They talk and talk and talk. They’re called extroverts. What they’re doing is thinking out loud. It’s just what they do. It helps them come to a conclusion.

  1. First of all, examine the behaviour of your team. Figure out who’re the extroverts (those whose energy expands in a crowd, who tend to talk more) and who’re the introverts (those whose energy depletes in a crowd, who tend to talk less).
  2. Extroverts need a little corralling. Learn how to use Assertiveness to curtail them when others need an opportunity to speak. But they provide great energy, drive and impetus, so don’t corral too much.

With An Effort, She Glanced Down at the Table

So what do you do about passive, quiet or shy types, who hardly contribute? I fit into and have chaired meetings with the “quiet” category, so here’s what I know about these types from a career of over 20 years.

  1. Give them time to prepare. This means no last-minute meetings. Send the agenda. And the attendee list.
  2. Offer them an opportunity to present a short talk or demo at the meeting. Quiet people (introverts) do best when they have time to prepare.
  3. Ask them a direct question, one that is obvious based on their job title, skills and experience. Address them by name, so there is no confusion.
  4. Give them a few moments to collect their thoughts. Quiet people think internally. They will take a few seconds longer to answer.
  5. Thank them for their contribution.

Human Sympathy Has Its Limits

Regardless of personality, you’ll encounter the ramblers, the aggressive types and the whingers.

  1. People who talk too much, often without saying anything of value just like Daisy Buchanan need to be stopped. Again, be assertive more rudeness is not acceptable. Divert: Ask a direct question to another, named person.
  2. If the louder, talkative ones are also the naysayers, ask for specific examples and solutions. Insist on solutions.
  3. Thank aggressive types for their contribution, but ask others for their reaction. If you have the room on your side, this can work well to quell a riot. If not, cut it off sharply but respectfully. Remind everyone of the agenda. Do not allow them to take over the time.

So We Beat On, Boats Against the Current

It’s always been done this way. We never have food at a lunchtime meeting, people can eat when they’re back at their desk. We always meet in the soul-sucking conference room with the 1970s drapes.

  1. Order in snacks. Everyone will come! It helps break the ice particularly when attendees are not all acquainted.
  2. Ask someone else to chair. Enable people to either discover new talents, or empathy for your usual role.
  3. Hold a standing meeting, an outside meeting or one in a different place.
  4. Finish early. You’ll be the talk of the town!

I’d love to know which of these tactics you use to confidently run meetings. Which do you like? Which will you try? If you need help running meetings or helping change a company culture, get in touch. We’d love to work with you.

Image credit: cjroarty

Meetings: Stand and Deliver

Today, I’m working through our Radical Time Management workshop with a group of business owners who have signed up to QUB’s CPD programme. One aspect of today will be to discuss how to decide whether a meeting is really necessary, how to get out of meetings or delegate someone to go in your place. However, should it arise that a meeting is entirely necessary, then here are the rules.

I debated whether to call this blog post, Stand, Breathe and Deliver, or perhaps The Oxygenated Highwayman. You figure it out!

What a Meeting is Not

A meeting is not:

  • A talking shop, for discussing and debating.
  • An opportunity to catch up with the social gossip within your organisation.
  • A chance to bitch about the staff/management en masse.

If your meetings include any of these activities, eliminate them and reclaim your time.

Avoid Having a Meeting At All

Few people enjoy meetings. Become the darling of your management team by suggesting sane alternatives:

  • Pick up the phone and ask a question.
  • Send an email with Voting Buttons or a Survey to elicit opinions or a series of swift decisions.
  • If you need only keep people informed or share documents:
    • Learn how to use Google Docs
    • If you have more money to spend, ask IT to set up a simple intranet site
    • If you fancy yourself a competent writer, start an internal blog.

If a meeting is still considered necessary, hold a Stand-Up Meeting – see below.

There are only three rules. Stand, Breathe and Deliver.

Hold a Stand-Up Meeting

Stand-up meetings are characterised by the following:

  • Invite the team involved on a project, not every manager in the building
  • Attendees stand, rather than sit
  • Meetings are generally brief (5-15 minutes), due to the eventual discomfort of standing so long in one place
  • There are no life-draining, convoluted series of welcomes, points arising, matters pertaining thereunto, thank-yous, discussions, deliberations or any other such nonsense

I reserve my right to indulge in a little sarcasm, having once worked for an organisation where full-day meetings (with tea-breaks and specially ordered-in lunch) were too regular to dismiss as anomalies; they were planned this way.

  • All members are encouraged to speak (briefly), sometimes using a visual prompt (such as a conch, as in Lord of the Flies, but a ridiculously-shaped stress-ball would do the same job)
  • Updates state progress, impediments to progress and prompt immediate solutions, a format that works extremely well in software development companies, where it has been adopted enthusiastically probably because it fits snugly with the Agile project management style

Have a Meeting in a Forest

Get your staff or managers out of the office for an hour, and into nature. I highly recommend meeting beside a gushing waterfall. You can almost get drunk on the high oxygen in such places. Oxygen, exercise, and space are all essential for energy, creativity, problem-solving, motivation, brainstorming, and those of us who are right-brain dominant (for which our schools, colleges, workplaces and world have no place to play).

If this is impossible (due to narrow-mindedness, what else?), a local cafe might provide at least a walk in the fresh air, which always invigorates thinking.

Insist on Delivery Before the Four Horsemen of Armageddon Arrive

Interpret this how you will. Insist on delivery of the tasks assigned to individuals before either the universe implodes, the staff retention rate reaches unacceptable levels, the FSA sends their men in black coats, profits sink, or Friday is upon you. In other words, schedule your tasks.

Assign tasks to named individuals. Ensure everyone is sent a summary of the main points by email. I recommend a massively pared-down version of minutes, if at all.

Further, ask for a (not necessarily written) report on how the task went at the beginning of the next meeting. Slackers and procrastinators will soon get used to being held accountable to their peers. When you encounter persistent, malignant non-compliance, train or fire. It’s a simple deterrent.

That’s about all I have to say. Trust me. I’ve been there. Think of what my new BFF Richard Koch would say.

Koch would say 80% of meetings are a waste of time. And, 80% of time your spent at meetings is wasted. He’d tell you to prioritise and choose the 20% of meetings that are an effective use of your time, and attend those. And, be aware that while you’re there, you’ll only find 20% of THAT time is actually effectively spent.

In other words, go back to where I said, Avoid Having a Meeting at All.

If you need help in drastically altering how meetings happen at your organisation, get in touch.

5 Ways to Engage Employees in Workplace Learning

So, you’re the HR (& Training Manager), right? You want to know how to engage employees in workplace learning. How come they always wait until the very last reminder email every month to complete their elearning modules?! When will I ever not have to run 43 mop-up webinars instead of the scheduled two?

The key is in the heading. Engage. You must do this at every stage. You must never expect employees to be engaged on demand, unless you first have engaged them.

Decades of Learning Theory in a Nutshell

Young children learn by mimicking. Later they learn to question, form their own opinions, debate and reason. Adults learn differently.

  • Adults learn best if they are engaged in every stage of the process of learning, from the first idea to the evaluation and redesign recommendations report. Engage employees in workplace learning by doing it from the start, not at the end of the process!

First: Have a No-Holds Barred Chat About It (or Brainstorm) One Hour

  • You need to get all those who’re interested in attending, or a representative bunch, together, in a room and discuss learning needs.
  • One of the easiest ways to do this is using a brainstorm. For the uninitiated, brainstorming was first introduced in a murder trial to denote a murderer’s state of mind, insanity. It’s not such an incorrect way to refer to a scattering of random ideas from multiple sources.
  • Allow people to throw out suggestions without form, reason, sense or justification. Brook no judgements. This is not a discussion, this is a brainstorm!

Second: Hold a Structured Meeting to Discuss the Mad Ideas From the Brainstorm (or Distill) One Hour

De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats provides a structure to enable everyone to contribute from multiple roles. Allow each person to wear a different coloured hat for 10 minutes at a time. Extra points for asking around for people to bring in actual coloured hats doesn’t matter in what style, as long as they’re coloured to wear during the meeting it’s a visual cue and there’s much to be said for a little silliness during working meetings.

  • White hat: the wearer must adopt an informative attitude and state facts only, e.g. We have 12 new employees who need trained on that new machine in the Fitting Department.
  • Yellow hat: the wearer must adopt a bright and optimistic attitude, e.g. If we have this new knowledge base designed for clients, we could dramatically lower our Support Team’s workload.
  • Black hat: the wearer must adopt a judgemental or discerning attitude (without dampening everyone’s spirits), e.g. This project is going to take months to complete.
  • Red hat: the wearer must adopt an intuitive attitude, expressing feelings, e.g. My gut’s telling me our older clients are going to love the convenience of this new feature.
  • Green hat: the wearer must adopt a creative attitude, expressing options and alternatives, e.g. We could deliver this as a PDF that all employees read, or we could hold a debate to help everyone thrash through the issues.
  • Blue hat: the wearer is the control, ensuring that the 6 thinking hats format is adhered to

Make a list of points to give to the people responsible for procuring and designing the learning. It’s their job to make sense of it all and ask further questions.

Third: Be as Creative as Heck (or Design)

  1. Hire an experienced adult learning professional to sift through the brainstorm notes and recordings and draft an initial topic content outline. (The person from HR is often not an experienced learning professional and forcing her to deliver a workshop is a shoddy way to treat any employee.)
  2. Discuss with them various elements that can make up the learning: eLearning, videos and other media, workshops, debates and discussions, coaching, reading, games, seminars, role-plays and lectures for example.
  3. Have the learning professional design the learning. Caution: committees cannot design content. Instead, they ruin it, because the loudest voice or group-think not solid learning principles and tactics wins.

Fourth: Insist that Senior Management Drop the Attitude and Show Up (or Implementation)

Yes, this is a difficult one. Working in middle management and insisting that “senior staff” attend been there, done that. But when senior management show learning is important by turning up, taking part, and implementing learning, others do too. Guess what happens when they don’t?

  • Many organisations make the fatal mistake of making learning compulsory for regular staff, but not for management. We once insisted on management taking part in a learning assessment that tested for knowledge. On the first day, it uncovered a serious lack of knowledge that could have cost the company millions had it not been noticed. We proved that specialist knowledge among management was important (who knew?!), that learning worked and suddenly every (previously too busy) manager wanted to take part.
  • If learning is to be taken seriously and you expect staff to attend, then senior management must be first out of the block. Lead and learn from the front; don’t beat from behind.

Fifth: Allow Employees to Rip the Backside Out of the Design and Implementation and Start Again (or Evaluation)

  • Does your organisation hold annual reviews or appraisals?
  • Does it discourage reciprocal, relaxed communication?
  • Are employees’ suggestions relegated to a dusty suggestion box? (Ed: Is that a joke, do people still use them?)
  • Instead, first create an atmosphere and culture where employees give feedback daily.
  • Then and only then can you ask for specific feedback on all learning initiatives.

This blog post is based on the complimentary principles of honesty, enablement and permission. If a learning professional was to be converted into a fly on the wall, what would they see? What would they hear?

If you need help with transforming your organisation into the type of place where management learns from the front and all employees become engaged from the start, contact us.