One of the things all managers generally get to do is summon their subordinates for a meeting. This represents real authority because most of your subordinates will feel obligated to attend. It also represents a significant responsibility on your part to make that attendance worth their while. Unfortunately, many managers, consciously or unconsciously, abuse this authority.
A young friend recently recounted to me her experience of her boss’s meetings which she described as generally consisting of long-winded monologues about whatever is on his mind and frequent displays of impatience with any attempt by his subordinates to expand the agenda or offer their independent thoughts. No doubt this sounds all too familiar to many of us whose personal memories contain similar examples from our own work experience.
Meetings are an important and necessary part of organizational life, so how do you avoid making your management meetings a tedious waste of time for those who attend? While this is a meaty subject worthy of a few book chapters, for this blog I will only offer a few experience-based suggestions as a good place to start.
First, each meeting you call should have a legitimate purpose obvious to you and those asked to attend. Consider announcing the agenda in advance to clarify that purpose and stick to the agenda when assembled. Absent a legitimate purpose, don’t hold the meeting.
Second, keep your meetings as short as possible. Meetings take time away from other important work. If you manage a long-winded group, consider a standing meeting or setting a strict time limit. And if you are often long-winded or just like to opine about things, discipline yourself.
Third, organizational meetings are generally either to exchange information — what I call “get smart” meetings — or to make “decisions”. Combining these two purposes in one meeting is OK but increases the length and complexity of the meeting, because the two activities require quite different mind-sets. Information exchanges do not require making any commitments; decision meetings do. You must manage the combination meeting carefully to insure participants achieve both goals before running out of gas.
Fourth, it is important for your subordinates to hear from you and to know what you think. It is just as important for you to hear from them and to have the benefit of their thoughts, especially when the topics under discussion directly affect their work or personal lives. It is up to the boss to manage the balance between “broadcasting and listening” that takes place in her or his meetings. In addition, when you really want to know what others think, consider holding your views in abeyance for a while. Laying your position out first will seem to many as an invitation for an argument not an open consideration of their views.
Fifth, when you allow a driver to merge in front of you in traffic, you appreciate a wave of acknowledgement. Hold a door open for someone and an absent thank you is irritating. Human beings crave “affirmation”. So do your subordinates. When they tell you what they think in meetings, show them that you have heard, will consider, and appreciate their comments, even when your immediate gut reaction is one of disagreement. When someone offers an idea you consider better than yours, say so openly. Such acknowledgement is powerful affirmation, and a sign of your maturity and open-mindedness.
Finally, watch your use of humor. Witty or sarcastic remarks directed at management above you, undermines the legitimate authority of a management structure to which you also belong. Such remarks directed toward comments made by your subordinates, are easily perceived as dismissive and disrespectful, and can shut down further discussion and debate. Humor is often a great management tool but like any tool, it has limits to its effective use.