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Communication Skills Part 6 Business Meetings

Business meetings are an integral part of the functioning of a business manager. Managers often meet either to exchange some information or discuss some problem or make some decisions. No company in the world can say that they do not conduct meetings in their company. The business meetings are so common and important that according to a study conducted, on an average CEOs spend around 17 hours every week in attending meetings, senior executives spend around 23 hours and middle managers spend around 11 hours every week in attending meetings. When the meetings are so important it is necessary that they are conducted very efficiently to make full use of the time spent in these meetings. But that is not the case. It is estimated that only 56% of the meetings are productive. A lot of time in these meetings is wasted, basically because of poor management of the meetings. This is the reason that some business executives call meetings a necessary evil. The reason is that the meetings are essential but at the same time they prove to be big time waster. Therefore, it is necessary that the people who conduct meetings should know how to conduct them efficiently.

Purposes of Meetings
The meetings are conducted for three purposes 1. Informational Meetings These meetings are conducted for passing on some information to the members. Basically this information may be reports for the past period or some new plans of the company or making people aware of what is going on in the company etc. People use this information for their knowledge and/or future reference. 2. Suggested Solutions Meetings Some meetings are called for discussing some problem and suggesting solutions for those problems. The terms of reference for such meetings are only for finding alternative solutions and suggesting them to the management. In these meetings no decisions are made about the selection of the solutions. 3. Problem Solving Meetings These meetings are held for taking decisions. The problems and their alternative solutions are discussed and decisions are made as to which solution should be accepted.

Reasons of Wasteful Meetings

As discussed in the first paragraph a lot of time is wasted in meetings because of their poor management. The possible important reasons are as under 1. Poor Preparation This is one of the common reasons for meetings becoming wasteful. The convenor does not make things clear in the beginning. The agenda is not prepared properly or it is not sent well in time. Sometimes the agenda is circulated during the meeting. Many of the members come for the meeting without any preparation. Such people cannot contribute anything substantial. They speak only because others are speaking. A lot of points are repeated again and again because people do not remember that these points have been discussed and decisions have been already made. 2. Failure to Maintain Minutes

Many a times the minutes of the meeting are not properly prepared or they are not circulated on time. As a result people do not remember as to what was discussed, decided or what action they are required to take. 3. Incompetent Chairperson Many meetings fail to produce the desired results because the chairperson of the committee is not competent. He is not able to control the proceedings. As a result people talk other than the agenda items and try to dominate. It is the responsibility of the chairperson to keep the meeting within the limit of the agenda and that all the members participate. Sometimes he is not able to control because he himself is under-prepared for the meeting. Sometimes if some of the members are senior to him in the age or position then the chairperson finds it difficult to exercise the control. But he needs to have this skill. 4. Cunning Chairperson Some managers only want to show that they are working hard. They call meetings after meetings but their intention is not to reach to any decision. Only by calling meetings they try to prove to their superiors that they are trying their level best to solve the problem but others are not cooperating. Their purpose is only to make people fight or argue endlessly with each other. 5. Dominating Boss or Chairperson If the boss has a very dominating nature then most of the members in the committee are afraid of talking. They accept everything what the boss says. This is not a meeting because only one persons opinion matters. This, in fact, is complete waste of time for rest of the members. 6. Spineless Managers Some managers are afraid of taking decisions. They have the power and authority but they do not make use of that. Tomorrow if the decision is proved wrong then they will be singled out for that. Therefore, they want to spread the risk. The decision which they can make they want a committee to make that decision. In case of failure they can say that it was a committees decision. In fact, such mangers do not deserve to be given any authority. They in any case are wasting the time of others. However, there is a positive side of this. It is better to make decisions on the basis of information and opinion given by many people. Therefore, if a meeting is called to decide something the decision would be a better decision. But what is important is the reason behind calling the meeting. Whether the meeting is called because the manager is afraid of making the decision or he genuinely wants to consult others. 7. Meeting-hungry Bosses Some bosses like to see people involved in yes-man-ship. They call meeting to hear how their subordinates are admiring their work or their decisions. There is no real need of any meeting. The only reason is that the boss wants to hear his own voice. 8. Hidden Agenda Some meetings are big time wasters because people come for those meetings with their personal agenda. Instead of sticking to the official agenda they come with their personal or departmental issues. Some people use meetings to settle their personal scores. 9. Bloated Committees

Some committees have too many members. The number is much more than really required. If the number is excessive then certainly people will talk many irrelevant things because all of them will not have points for discussion. 10. Absence of Key Players Sometimes the main person responsible for the job or the decision does not attend the meeting. The meeting is attended by many others but when the decision is conveyed to the key person he rejects it. This is a sheer waste of time of all the people who attended the meeting. 11. Marathon Meetings Some meetings last for a very long time because people do not reach to a decision or consensus. In such situation after some time people start losing interest and they get involved in other things like attending to phone calls, going to wash rooms or for a puff.

Effective Meetings
Having seen the problems of ineffective meetings we need to understand how to conduct an effective meeting so that the time spent in the meeting is productive. The following are the precautions one should take to make the meetings effective 1. To Meet or not to Meet There are many issues which can be resolved by senior executives by using their powers for which no meeting is required. There are some issues which can be discussed over telephone or email can be sent for getting the responses. A meeting should be called only when it is absolutely necessary. When some face to face discussion is required and there is a possibility and need of different opinions then only meeting should be called. Some meetings are required to be called because they are necessitated by the statutes of the company. 2. Plan for a Meeting The convenor of the meeting should properly plan for it. Why the meeting is being called, who should attend the meeting, when the meeting should be convened, what is to be discussed in the meeting; are the points he should plan out well in advance. 3. Agenda A proper agenda for the meeting is a must. The agenda should give complete information to all the people who are going to attend the meeting. A good agenda should specify the time of the meeting, the location, the purpose, the points which are to be discussed and it should go to all the people who are to be invited for the meeting. The agenda should go to the people well in advance so that they are able to prepare for the meeting. 4. Starting Time When in the agenda the time of the meeting is mentioned then the meeting should start exactly at that time. Even if some of the members are late the convenor should take the initiative to start the meeting. We should remember that if we do not start the meeting on time then we are wasting the time of those who reached in time. This also shows that we have respect for the time. 5. Opening Remarks The convenor should start the meeting by making his opening remarks. These opening remarks set the tone of the meeting. They define the structure and scope of the meeting. The members are expected to keep themselves within that scope so that irrelevant points are not discussed.

6. Getting Down to Business After making the opening remarks the committee should straight away get down to the business i.e. start discussing the issues for which the meeting has been called. This should happen in the sequence defined in the agenda. If the convenor feels that some members are trying to divert from the main agenda then it is his responsibility to bring the discussion back on to the track. 7. Participation The convenor should ensure that all the people who have been called for the meeting participate. If there are some dominating people then the convenor should control them. If there are some people who do not open up easily then they should be invited and encouraged to participate. If all the members do not participate, the purpose of the meeting is defeated. 8. Non-verbals in the Meeting In any communication the importance of non-verbal symbols is very clear. These symbols can be used positively as well as negatively. The convenor should use these symbols to appreciate and encourage the people who make good points. Similarly, if he observes that some members are using these symbols negatively then he should give them the indication that what they are doing is not acceptable. 9. Control or Collaborate Depending on the requirement and the situation the convenor should decide whether he needs to control or collaborate. When he feels that somebody is trying to dominate or create some disturbance then he will have to control and send a message that he is in charge and nobody should create any nuisance. When he feels that the topic requires a lot of discussion and debate then he should see to it that people participate. 10. In Case of Confrontation Sometimes there may be some conflicts among members during a meeting. The covenor should assess the situation properly and resolve it. He should not hesitate to take sides if he is confident that he is taking the side of the right person. He should not try to keep everybody happy and leave the matter unresolved. Sometimes he may have to act diplomatically to resolve the conflicts. 11. Reaching Rapid Consensus in Meetings The convenor should see to it that people are not unnecessarily wasting time in discussing the same point again and again. He should ensure that the consensus is reached as early as possible. 12. Closing After the meeting is over the convenor should make it clear that the meeting is over. Many times the people are confused and do not know what is to be done next. Therefore, announcing the closer is also important. 13. Minutes This is a very important part of the meeting. Minutes are the records of what was discussed in the meeting. Based on the minutes some actions are required to be taken in future. Therefore, after the meeting is over the minutes should be circulated as soon as possible. If they are circulated late then some people may forget what was discussed. Also, the required actions may be delayed. When the meetings are of repetitive nature then in every meeting the first point in the agenda should be approval of the minutes of the last meeting. The minutes should give proper details of all the points discussed, action to be taken, time for taking the action, person responsible for taking the action etc.

Meeting Etiquettes
It is necessary to observe certain etiquettes in the meetings otherwise we may end up hurting the feelings of some people. 1. Dont Go Late 2. Dont Interrupt 3. Dont Monopolize 4. Dont Joke 5. No Personal Conversation 6. Dont Use Phone 7. No Irrelevant Discussion 8. No Emotions 9. Respect the Chair =========