It is inevitable that in any organization at times it becomes necessary to meet with other members of your organization in order to discuss the issues at hand or even plan for the future. As any read of Dilbert can tell you, meetings can range from a highly productive bonding experience to a life-draining and disengaging task. This negative feeling stems from two sources, a lack of substantial content and a lack of participation from everyone in the room. On the other hand, a successful meeting is one that accomplishes two goals that at times may seem contradictory, an efficient and effective use of time and ensuring that as many people as possible are included in the conversation. A meeting is truly successful, only if everyone leaves the meeting feeling like their time and participation was worth it.
Often times a meeting may not be the most efficient use of time. If ideas begin to stagnant and no meaningful conversation is taking place, the membership of the meeting may become disenchanted and lose interest. A common pitfall is for meetings to devolve into groupthink, the desire to avoid conflict and form a consensus even though that particular consensus might not necessarily be the best idea. Due to a natural resistance to discord, groupthink prevents the meeting from having any tangible resolution, as the conversation will always lean towards the most amicable, but not always the most effective solution. A common method to combat groupthink is the appointment of a devil’s advocate, an individual selected to purposefully find fault with an idea, without a fear of repercussions. This contrarian view will force any issues to the forefront, and hopefully serve to facilitate their resolution. While it may not always be possible, asking for outside input may also serve to dispel groupthink, as the addition of a new perspective will cause the group to reevaluate their current positions in the face of new information.
The more people who actively participate in a meeting, the more effective the meeting becomes. In a meeting it is important to ensure that everyone’s opinions are being articulated. There is a tendency for more senior and confident members to dominate the discussion causing feelings of distress for newer membership. This scenario is highly damaging to the organization as it disengages members and prevents them from developing within the organization. At the same time it may be difficult for more shy members to speak openly, and simply providing them a forum to communicate may not be sufficient to solicit their active involvement. In meetings that I have participated in, we adopt the philosophy of “Step up, Step back”. The central idea is that those who have been contributing a great deal should make an effort to participate less in order to provide those who have not yet stepped up an opportunity. In the same vein, those who have not yet voiced their opinions are urged to speak up in an encouraging manner. This practice is most effective when used on a consistent basis as to not single any individual member out. When every member feels that they had contributed to the discussion they become much more invested than if they had felt otherwise.
A well-run meeting should leave everyone feeling a sense of accomplishment, that their presence has made an impact on the discussion. When a meeting is successful the bonds between the participants tighten, and the group’s commitment to their organization is solidified. A leader must work to ensure that their meetings are meaningful, and that those who attend feel validated.
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