Every manager knows that internal meetings can easily fill the diary and seem to take on a life of their own. So how do you make the most of internal meetings?
A curse or a cure?
The chances of such meetings being seen by all concerned as a valuable and decisive achievement are very slim. All too often meetings are cynically seen as a delaying tactic or a way to find more excuses for procrastination!
Adopting some basic policies
Both small departmental meetings and larger management meetings can be made more productive is we follow some simple guidelines:
• A title for the meeting, designed like a book title to announce the content or theme
• A declared ‘strategic’ purpose (or objective) for the meeting
• A chairperson with authority to control the meeting
• An agenda, with specific individuals assigned ‘ownership’ of each item
• An ‘exclusive’ list of participants (no uninvited or unnecessary attendees), each with authority to make proposals and/or vote to support decisions
• A scribe or other method of recording proceedings. Ensure that the results of the meeting can be monitored by board-level leaders
• A report from the chairperson or a nominated representative. Publish decisions made and follow-up actions assigned from the meeting
• Circulation of the report to those attending. Specify senior managers/directors PLUS any other relevant people who need to be kept informed
A policy requirement for recommendations made need to be ratified by a higher authority. The preferred option would be to make it mandatory for that person(s) to attend the meeting. Their role could be seen as advisory. Nevertheless they will be required to comment on and approve or reject suggestions, before the conclusion of the meeting.
This approach will encourage true consultative leadership. It will remove the more remote system of cascading strategic decisions from the top, via tiers of management until they eventually reach the front line. It will also avoid the common incidence of repeated meetings at which ideas are discussed and suggestions made, but no decisions approved.
Bigger meetings and other events
The first section primarily describes the familiar, routine meetings. These are often confined within one department or involve one product or service group. They could be concerned with research, planning, design, manufacture, operations, sales or service, quality control or development strategy. Or they could be related to personnel management and training.
Some of the larger ‘internal’ meetings will be with channel partners and other key stakeholders. Alternatively they may be addressing part of or the entire workforce. It is more likely that external agencies could be employed to assist with some or all aspects of these meetings. Whatever the size and nature of these bigger events, the same rules apply, with some modifications.
The obvious difference with larger gatherings is the practical difficulty of facilitating audience participation and feedback. The increasing use of meeting apps and other technology permits personalised messages and information to be distributed in advance and feedback to be collected. This can be done using a ‘live’ voting system during the meeting or with appropriate feedback forms and post-event surveys.
Create next steps
When these larger meetings have been assessed with scientific research, some valuable lessons have been learned. A recent survey by McKinsey & Company concluded:
‘Just because a decision is made doesn’t mean people are committed to it. People bring their own motivations to meetings. We’ve seen plenty of cases where a ‘yes’ in the meeting turns into a ‘maybe’ in the following days and weeks. Part of the solution is to make sure the next steps are clear. Include the nitty-gritty details of execution. After all, a decision only matters if it can be implemented. The broader challenge, of course, is making sure that everyone feels a stake in the outcome. Getting there involves institutionalising the principle of disagree and commit, articulated by Jeff Bezos in his 2017 letter to Amazon shareholders.
Make time valuable
The investment in larger meetings is normally budgeted and recorded, so that financial control is exerted. Evidence of a satisfactory return on investment is more likely to be demanded. The danger of not being able to provide an accurate measurement is that future budgets for internal communication may be reduced or eliminated. Restrictions on the circulation of ideas, information, problems and solutions throughout an organisation will threaten its health and sustainability. Making internal meetings effective is an essential duty of board level leadership and must be part of its strategy for success.
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