7th March, 2016

I'm sure that everyone reading this has had some experience of attending meetings, and can almost guarantee that you will also have first-hand experience of attending an ineffective meeting. There are always a few individuals who don't follow the basic rules of a meeting - i.e. arriving on time, keeping the meeting 'on topic', or doing their research prior to attending the meeting so that they have something constructive that they can bring to the table. As a result of this, research suggests that the average British worker spends 4 wasted hours per week in what they would describe as a 'pointless' meeting (source: http://www.managementtoday.co.uk/news/1175002/). That's time that could be spent doing something much more worthwile, like watching the entire 1967 film production of 'War and Peace'.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure what can be done to convince the worst offenders that it is possible to have an effective meeting that starts on time and stays on point. However, in the course of my research, I have found some interesting recommendations for meetings that may help the more reasonable attendees amongst us!

For a start, it is recommended that people attending meetings take notes using a pen and paper rather than a laptop or mobile device, due to the fact that "Even if you have fantastic abilities to focus on the meeting, other people may assume that you are "catching up on email" instead of paying attention to the meeting if you take notes on a computer" http://projectmanagementhacks.com/meeting-tips/. This is a great point and one that I had not previously considered. Despite the incredible handiness of being able to type notes straight into a WORD document, I hadn't really thought about the way that other meeting attendees perceive the use of computers in meeting before, so will have to bear this in mind for the future.

Another point that was raised as I searched for tips for effective meetings touches on a point mentioned in the image above - that is, making sure that all attendees listen to one another and create an environment where members are encouraged to communicate freely about the topics discussed. I found a great article by Antony Jay in the 1976 issue of the Harvard Business Review that explains why the involvement of all group members in a meeting is so important:

"A meeting is the place where the group revises, updates, and adds to what it knows as a group. Every group creates its own pool of shared knowledge, experience, judgment, and folklore. But the pool consists only of what the individuals have experienced or discussed as a group-i.e., those things which every individual knows that all the others know, too... Some ethologists call this capacity to share knowledge and experience among a group "the social mind," conceiving it as a single mind dispersed among a number of skulls. They recognize that this "social mind" has a special creative power, too. A group of people meeting together can often produce better ideas, plans, and decisions than can a single individual or a number of individuals, each working alone"


Jay stresses the point that the pool of shared knowledge in a meeting can only consist of what the individuals have experienced or discussed as a group, highlighting the fact that if one or more meeting attendees do not feel confident enough to contribute to the discussion in the meeting, the pool of shared knowledge will be lacking certain information that could be extremely beneficial to the team as a whole.

So next time you're in a meeting, leave the laptop at your desk and make sure you say what's on your mind (as long as it's on topic!). These two small changes could have a positive impact on the way you and your fellow attendees experience the meeting, and you never know - everyone might even arrive on time and stay on topic! Miracles can happen!

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