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Improving Meeting Effectiveness

Submitted by Jayel Kirby
Salt Lake Community College
COMM 1010-005
October 27, 2014

Overview
My team was concerned with raising awareness among SLCC students of the diversity
within the LGBTQ community. We came up with a combination of solutions that wouldn’t be
too taxing on team members’ time and budgets, and that would reach out to as many SLCC
students as possible, using a myriad of genres. My group was able to come up with a feasible
solution in the allotted time because we were able to work as a team with clear and inspiring
shared goals and unified commitment.
This doesn’t mean we didn’t experience any difficulties. We learned the importance of
having agendas for our meetings the hard way. We also learned to regret the decision to
procrastinate confronting a team member with issues until the final meeting. In future group
project meetings, I plan to develop and distribute an agenda before each meeting, and handle
individual issues as soon as they arise. These modifications should improve the effectiveness of
each meeting significantly.

Project Description
Our team of five students wanted to help SLCC students have a better understanding of
the diversity that exists within the LGBTQ community. As we embarked upon this task, we
followed a reflective thinking sequence.
The first step involved preparing a team contract, which included agreeing upon group
norms and roles. This set each team member on the same page and helped remind us of the
importance of respecting each other’s ideas. Next, we decided on a problem we’d wanted to
solve and stated it as an open-ended question, to avoid having a predetermined solution in mind.
The question we chose was: “What’s the best way to raise awareness of the diversity within the
LGBTQ community among students at SLCC Redwood Campus?”
The next step, studying the problem, involved a number of smaller steps. First, we
investigated the characteristics of the problem. We felt that while there may have been some
students who were willing to accept the lifestyles of members of the gay community, they might
not have fully understood the diversity that exists within all members of the LGBTQ community.
For example, transgenders are often misunderstood to be gay. Such lack of understanding can
lead to problems that gays also tend to deal with, such as bullying, ostracism, and depression.
From there, we looked into the history of what had been done to help raise LGBTQ awareness on
campus, and found a website that was sponsored by a student club called Gay/Straight Alliance.
We learned that during the course of our project, the site had been updated and renamed the
Equality Involvement Club. We were encouraged by this, since the new name veered away from
the restrictive title of just gay. While studying our problem, we needed to be aware of campus
policies and any ethical concerns. We determined what resources we had to work with, such as
budget and time restraints. Then we created a list of sources for ideas about how we could solve
our problem, including the Equality Involvement Club, the SLCC Student Association, and the
Student Senate.
Once this study was complete, we were ready to create a list of criteria that we wanted
our solution to meet. Items on the list included our budget and time restraints, communication
principles we’d been learning in class, and respect for all members of our campus community.
Next, we began selecting a solution. This was done by first brainstorming all possible ideas. No
idea was too odd or too grand. After all ideas were written down, we narrowed the list down to
six of the most feasible solutions on our list. Each member of the team ranked how each of those
six solutions met each criteria by ranking it from 1-10, then results were tabulated. The solution
that was the clear winner by math was the solution that we chose. At our next meeting, we
improved upon that solution by incorporating other solution ideas and then we strengthened that
plan by investigating possible contingencies. We also drew up a plan for how our solution would
be implemented. The end result was a plan we all liked: we would conduct a survey of students
in the cafeteria and other common areas to pique interest in our issue, inform participants that the
results of the survey would be in a future edition of The Globe newspaper, and give them a card
with the website address of the Equality Involvement Club, where they could learn more.

Group Assets
On September 4, I was placed into a group with four other classmates by assignment and
we were told that we were “Team 5”. But as our text attests, “you don’t have to be a cynic to
know calling a group of people a team doesn’t make them one. … True teams have all the
attributes of a group, but they have other qualities that distinguish them …” (Adler, et. al, p.
188). What made our group a true “team” was our clear and inspiring shared goals and unified
commitment.
As explained in our text, a team has “clear and inspiring shared goals. Members of a
winning team know why their team exists and they believe that purpose is important and
worthwhile” (Adler, et. al, p. 189). One of us could have completed this project by themselves.
But we wouldn’t have been able to draw upon each other’s ideas, talents and experiences. For
example, I would never have come up with a topic as controversial as the LGBTQ community on
my own, yet after hearing a team member explain why they suggested it, I was intrigued.
Discussing that issue with others to determine the specifics of the problem gave us purpose and
gave our issue depth. That was the purpose of working together as a team. And we knew that in
order to get a good grade as individuals, we needed to earn a good grade as a group. That was a
shared goal that each of us considered to be important. Understanding of that shared goal helped
to form us into a “team”.
As a result of having clear and inspiring shared goals, our team’s greatest strength was
unified commitment. According to our text, “people in successful teams put the group’s goals
above their personal interests” (Adler, et. al, p. 189). Willingness to make a personal sacrifice for
the good of the group was the key to the success of our team. When one individual failed to
fulfill a responsibility, another team member was quick to offer to complete the assignment.
They were more interested in the success of the group than they were in “just doing their part”.
This philosophy was contagious and encouraged other team members to offer their assistance in
later situations. While one individual remained inconsistent and undependable, other team
members shouldered the responsibility without complaint. This sense of unity ushered us toward
success as a team.

Group Limitations
Admittedly, there were some difficulties. We were frustrated with both a lack of
organization at meetings and by procrastinating the opportunity to confront an issue with one of
our team members.
To assist us in our group project, we were given many resources, including step-by-step
instructions on how to apply the reflective thinking sequence, charts to be completed at each
meeting, a text book, a sample report, and team members who had been assigned to work with
us. While each of these tools was essential in developing a solid solution, we found them to be
overwhelming to sift through during the course of a meeting. We were constantly shuffling from
one document to another. Additionally, a lot of our meeting time ended up being spent on
accomplishing tasks that should have been completed before the meeting began. Two students
spent a considerable amount of time during our last meeting writing portions of our report
because there had been a misunderstanding in writing assignments. Some sections of the report
had been written by both of them, and some sections had been omitted altogether. Without an
agenda, it was difficult to maintain any kind of order, and the result was that we often felt that
we didn’t have enough time to complete the required steps in our meetings.
This pressure was made worse by our decision to avoid conflict (see Adler, et. al, p. 127)
with one of our team members. Early on, we realized that an individual on our team was going to
let the rest of us down. They lacked consistent attendance, follow-through and out-of-class
communication. During more than one meeting, we spent valuable time discussing what should
be done to deal with this behavior. After reading in the text that “workplace dignity refers to a
person’s ability to gain a sense of self-respect and self-esteem from her job and to be treated
respectfully by others” (Adler, et. al, p. 110), we suggested a one-on-one approach (see Adler, et.
al, p. 117) that would ask about his welfare and invite him to share with us possible barriers to
his participation. Unfortunately, we failed to determine exactly who would confront him, and
when the student in question was next in attendance, we rushed on to cover other matters,
evading the issue entirely. It wasn’t until we were in the middle of our final meeting that
someone finally worked up the nerve to address the issue, by using “I” language (see Adler, et.
al, p. 117). Unfortunately, all that could be done at this point was to award him a low score and
to explain why we had agreed upon giving him the lowest participation points possible. As soon
as our meeting concluded, he exited as quickly as he could. I imagine he must have felt
humiliated. The rest of us remained in class for a few moments; silenced by regret. Our initial
decision to avoid a slightly awkward moment led to experiencing a greater amount of discomfort
later.

Recommendations
This project presented a perfect opportunity to learn about how to increase the
effectiveness of meetings. I learned the importance of raising difficult issues as soon as they
occur, and I also learned the value of utilizing agendas and meeting minutes.
It would be easy to say that things would have gone better if only that “unreliable”
student had been more dependable. But our text teaches us that “the problem isn’t conflict itself,
but rather the way in which it is handled. With the right approach, conflict can produce good
results” (Adler, et. al, p. 125). Had we raised the issue with that student in an appropriate way, at
the earliest opportunity, things might have turned out differently. For all we know, he could have
had a legitimate dilemma that we could have worked out had we discussed it together. Perhaps
he was too shy to bring it up on his own. We don’t know, because we didn’t ask him. Clearly, it
would have been wiser to attempt to collaborate or compromise rather than to avoid the conflict
until the last minute (see Adler, et. al, p. 127-30).
Additionally, our meetings could have gone much smoother if we had employed agendas
and meeting minutes. Our text explains that “a meeting without an agenda is like a ship at sea
without a destination or compass: No one aboard knows where it is or where it’s headed” (Adler
et. al, p. 217). When we attempted to accomplish tasks during a meeting by flipping back and
forth between three or more documents, our meetings were disorganized and inefficient. So
much of our frustration could have been avoided if we had developed agendas for our meetings.
If we had prepared agendas and shared them with all team members before each meeting, we
could have decreased the time spent during meetings to complete those assignments. This is
especially significant in respect to the issue we had with having portions of the report written
twice while other sections were omitted. Further, had we kept meeting minutes and shared those
after the meeting in which the writing assignments had been divided, that misunderstanding
could have been avoided at the onset. In retrospect, utilizing agendas and meeting minutes as
described in our text (Adler, et. al, pp. 217-230) would have dramatically increased the
efficiency of our meetings.
From now on, I will keep in mind what I have learned. I will use agendas and meeting
minutes more often and I will try to confront issues with my team members as soon as possible.

Conclusion
Our group succeeded in finding an outstanding solution to our problem because we were
more than just a “group”; we worked as a “team”. We had shared goals and unified commitment
to the task.
This experience taught me the value of utilizing an agenda and meeting minutes, and
allowed me to learn the importance of raising issues of conflict as soon as possible. I can take
what I’ve learned from this exercise and improve the effectiveness of meetings that I am a part of
in the future.

Works Cited
Adler, R., Elmhorst, J., & Lucas, K. (2013). COMM 1010: Communicating At Work (11th ed.).
Boston: McGraw Hill Learning Solutions.