#MTtalk: Meetings – Herding Cats and Taming Alligators » Mind Tools Blog

#MTtalk: Meetings – Herding Cats and Taming Alligators

April 18, 2017

Meetings Are Melting Pots

While many of us try to “fit in” to a specific workplace culture, meetings often highlight different ways of thinking and doing things. It’s because of how meetings work: we put a group of people in a room together to make a decision or to reach an agreement. Then, we discover that some people are slow decision makers, while others are always pressing ahead. We also find that people can have starkly contrasting ideas on how something should be done.

We need to keep in mind “who we are,” in meetings, as well as what we do in them. Meetings are “melting pots” of different personalities, thinking preferences, departments, positions, cultures, and, in some countries, even languages. This was brought into focus by an experience I had a few years ago.

I worked on a project in a neighboring country and regularly attended meetings there. After one that I thought had been exceptionally productive, one of the local project managers called me to one side. To my surprise, she said, “We experience you as quite rude.”

What? Little old me? Impossible! Sensing that I was missing something, I asked her what I did that she thought was impolite. “You don’t take the time to talk to people before the meetings start.” Well, what could I say? It was true. I’m always time-conscious and I can be very task-oriented. I felt that it was in order to carry on with business after saying, “Good morning, how is everybody?”

I didn’t realize that it was part of the culture of that country to make a considerable amount of small talk before it was appropriate to start a meeting. You had to connect with everyone on a personal level, before discussing the business at hand.

Now, I’m not the world’s best at making small talk, but that incident taught me that it’s easier to discuss difficult issues in a meeting if everybody knows that we’re all “human” and that we care about one another. Although we should try to run our meetings as effectively as possible, we should also remember that we’re dealing with people.

Meetings: Herding Cats and Taming Alligators

During our latest #MTtalk Twitter chat, we discussed what we don’t like about meetings and how we can make them better. Here are all the questions and some responses from participants.

Q1 What do you hate most about meetings?

This question could have kept us busy for a long time!

@SnowinRI Watching egotists purposely go out of their way to belittle peers now that they’ve got the audience in front of the Boss.

@EDresearchVB Unplanned deviations based on personal agendas that are not in line with the topic at hand.

@GodaraAR Off-the-topic discussions and unnecessary interruptions.

@Midgie_MT Lack focus & purpose, do not start/finish on time, no agreed actions/outcomes, people not respecting each other’s views.

Q2 What bad meetings habits have you slipped into?

@SistadaHealer Not expecting to learn anything new, prepare to be defensive, doodling on notepad during meeting.

@WonderPix Sometimes thinking more about next response than really listening, though I know better 

Q3 What’s your top tip for handling people who are repeatedly late for meetings?

@JKatzaman The door can be locked after start of the meeting to send message to latecomers. That’s tough when it’s the leader who’s late.

@JenniferBulandr Start the meeting on time.

Q4 How might you help focus a chaotic meeting when you’re not the chairperson?

@MicheleDD_MT Say that we are “going down a rat hole.” I’ve used a picture of a rat or had people call out, “Rat!” It’s fun & makes the point.

@ShereesePubHlth Even if you’re not hosting, state the focus of the meeting. This sends a subliminal message to attendees to not wander off-topic.

 Q5 How do you deal with participants who can’t agree an action?

@harrisonia If no one can agree on an action to take: record all of the proposed actions, table the discussion, and move to the next topic.

@BrainBlenderTec Put them into solution teams: they often dig deep to rise to challenge.

Q6 A co-worker hasn’t done their follow-up actions what do you do?

Most participants felt that you should find out why they didn’t do it, and offer to help them.

@70mq I would plan to check up on the progress between meetings and make sure expectations are clear.

@psychedge01 Stages:  First time say something that makes polite impact. Next time ask why after meeting. Third time they need a talking to.

Q7 Some people love talking. How do you get them to listen?

@jeremypmurphy Rotate who has the floor, set time limits if necessary and enforce them. Everyone must be heard in a meeting.

@TeachFangs Sometimes polite, direct, honesty is the easiest and most effective: “Please, let someone else have the floor for a few minutes.”

Q8 What can you do to avoid cognitive bias in meetings?

@SanabriaJav  Ask individuals to substantiate their (random) opinions/conclusions with fact or something analogous. 

@Yolande_MT To avoid cognitive bias you need different voices, opinions, personalities, ways of thinking and approaches in a meeting.

Q9 How do you decide whether a meeting is needed?

@TalentExch_Biz When at least one round of emails doesn’t do the trick, put a call/meeting on the books.

@PG_pmp When we learn that all are not on same page then they need to sit around a table to clear the confusion.

Q10 If you could share one tip to make meetings more effective, what would it be?

There were so many great tips that it was hard to only choose a few, but here goes:

@GThakore Perfect timing. Stick to start and end times and manage what happens in between with to-the-point discussions.

@SistadaHealer Keep it professional, never personal, have everything ready beforehand, and make sure to do accurate research.

@jeremypmurphy Also make the meeting: fruitful, fun and funny whenever possible. And as short as possible – brevity and levity.

 

  • We end on a light note with this tweet by @JKatzaman: “The Guinness Book of Records” listed a meeting that ended early, but I forgot to note the entry. My bad.”

 

Next time, on #MTtalk…

What do you think the most important thing is for a leader to do in uncertain times? Please vote in our Twitter poll here to let us know.  

In our next #MTtalk, on Friday April 28, our topic is “Leading in Uncertain Times.” To share your thoughts and ideas, please join us at 1pm EST/5pm GMT/10:30pm IST.

To participate in our chat about leading in uncertain times, type #MTtalk in the Twitter search function. Then, click on “All Tweets,” and you’ll be able to follow the live chat feed. To join the conversation, simply include #MTtalk in your tweet and it will show up in the chat feed.

 

Resources

In the meantime, here are some resources that will teach you more about holding effective meetings:

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