Last time, we talked about culture and the importance of designing it to support your organisation's objectives. This time, we’ll explore one specific area to show what we mean in practice.
In many organisations we visit we see meetings where people arrive late, and unprepared for the agenda items under discussion. Too often, people are more or less openly checking their emails on their BlackBerry or laptop during the meeting, or even answering their mobile and leaving the room for a while to take a call!
Even where electronic gadgets are left outside or switched off, we often see people not listening to each other. They talk over each other, interrupt the person speaking, or start side conversations while someone is presenting.
Sometimes meetings have no clear agenda at all, or only a simple list of topics to be discussed with no clear indication of the intended outcome of each item. And all too often people leave with no clear idea of what exactly is going to be done, and by whom, as a result of the meeting. So, surprise, surprise, nothing happens, and all those good ideas come to nothing.
Why Do We Do It?
Meetings encapsulate all that is right and wrong with organisation cultures. The practices above damage relationships and significantly hinder productivity. Like all dysfunctional practices, they betray the presence of unconscious attitudes and beliefs that are rarely surfaced and explored by those who hold them. Some of the attitudes and beliefs that can underlie this kind of behaviour include:
- “I don’t see the point of this meeting”
- “I’ve got my job to do – I’m not interested in his job”
- “I’ve got far too much to do to be here”
- “My attention is not needed for this bit / this bit is boring – I’ll tune back in when we are talking about something more interesting to me”
- “I feel threatened by these meetings; I have to defend my self / function / profession / ego at all costs”
If you have meetings populated with people who don’t see the point of being there, or feel threatened, you’ll get an unhappy, inefficient meeting and poor quality results. Everything will take longer and there will be repetition and duplication of effort. More than that, actions are far less likely to be implemented on time and in full.
So What’s the Alternative?
How would it be instead if:
- Every person in the meeting knows exactly why they are there and what their contribution is expected to be
- Everybody turns up in good time, fully prepared.
- Everybody switches off their mobile phone, BlackBerry and email for the duration of the meeting
- You all listen fully and without interrupting to each person speaking
- You can tell the truth without fear of reprisals
- You can trust others to keep their word
- There is a clear agenda, with clear objectives for each item
- Actions with a deadline date are assigned to named individuals for every decision made
To have meetings that work this way and then for these practices to become ‘just the way we do things’ in the rest of your organisation, you need to do some conscious design work. Some of the most important work you ever do is done in meetings – spend some time making sure that they are as effective and efficient as possible.
Changing Your Culture
What happens in meeting rooms accurately reflects what happens in the organisation outside. So if you think the meetings you attend or lead are not very good, it’s a good indicator that the culture that happens outside the meetings also needs some work.
Many organisations start their ‘cultural revolution’ by working hard at transforming the quality and quantity of outcomes from their meetings. If you'd like to tell us what practices you consider to be your organisation’s meeting strengths and weaknesses, click here to let us know - we’ll publish them so others can take action on them. If you feel your ‘weakness’ list is longer than your ‘strengths’ then call us; we’ll be delighted to discuss how you can start to make a significant impact on your company’s culture by transforming the quality of your meetings.