How are meetings used in business situations? Are they still effective?
While meetings often despised as being time-wasters, think of how few things can be accomplished when human beings must come together to work on a project or proposal without them. Talking about how to proceed together has been happening since the caveman days, when a group of hunters had to decide how to stalk and kill prey. Even though today the “prey” is different (very few mastodons in New York City anymore), the principle is the same…get members of a particular team to achieve a goal.
Need a definition of a meeting? Here you go: a meeting occurs when a select number of people gather to see who can keep from playing Candy Crush on their phone the longest without getting caught. Okay, no really: a meeting occurs when a select number of people come together at a predesignated time to discuss a typically pre-selected topic on which the invitees offer their ideas. Meetings can be useful in order to come to a decision and/or develop a plan of action. Some meetings are held to help employees develop a skill, such as pitching ideas to clients.
Who is invited to particular meetings depends on the topic that is on the table for discussion; they may be of the same group or department or different departments. Meetings often take place physically on the premises of a company, but they also frequently occur via Skype or other electronic conferencing means.
There are dozens of different types of meetings and everyone, from low-level employees to top management attend several kinds of meetings. Here are the most common types:
Staff meetings. In most companies, supervisors and/or managers hold staff meetings on a bi-weekly (or sometimes weekly) basis. These meetings are to inform staff of higher level decisions and to discuss the progress of the supervisor’s team as they work to achieve corporate goals. Staff meetings are also a time for staff to ask questions of management.
Project team meetings. Most large companies have project teams. These teams are made up of people from different departments who have been directed to develop, design and/or implement a new product, system, or process. Most teams are given a specific timeframe in which to complete a project. Serving on a project team is typically a duty that is “extra,” that is, in addition to the employees regular job.
Process and procedure meetings. These meeting are called to inform people involved when the new projects, systems, or processes are about to be implemented. In addition to giving the concerned parties a general overview, the meeting will also communicate how it will affect their departments and the steps that they will need to follow. The meeting will be in presentation form. A question-and-answer session will typically follow.
Quarterly meetings. At these meetings, quarterly earnings are announced and progress towards goals are assessed and discussed; any strategic directional changes will be pursued. These meetings are also presentational and are usually led by a high-level executive.
Not all meeting are effective. In order for employees to consider them valuable, it is crucial to make sure that there has been thorough planning prior to the meeting and, when it occurs, skillful, knowledgeable leadership throughout the meeting.
Prior to the meeting take place, it should be absolutely determined if the meeting truly needs to be held. Employee morale can decline if people feel their time is being wasted. First, determine whether the objectives needed to be addressed might be accomplished through verbal or written communication.
If it is determined that a meeting does need to take place, then an agenda must be prepared to include the objectives that will be discussed and the desired outcome of the meeting clearly delineated. Here is an example of a typical agenda:
a) call the meeting to order
b) read the minutes of the previous meeting for approval, then correct errors and omissions
c) hear reports of officers and committees
d) discuss unfinished business
e) take up new business
When the meeting takes place, the facilitator should start on time, welcome those present, and conduct introductions if necessary. The facilitator should strive to keep the meeting on course as outlined in the pre-meeting agenda and get as many people to participate in the discussion as possible. Along the way, the conductor of the meeting should also be sure that there is agreement on next steps and answer questions along the way. At the conclusion of the meeting, the facilitator should try to conclude on a positive note.
Source: Encyclopedia of Business and Finance, ©2001 Gale Cengage. All Rights Reserved
Business meetings used to be occasions where various branches of a complex business structure reported individual progress, learned about progress in other branches of the business, and co-ordinated the next step in assigning and assessing tasks. While this is still the ostensible reason for meetings, the hidden agendas are somewhat more socially subtle – a great deal of business energy is spent “climbing the ladder” and “consolidating one’s power” and similar personal projects. Meetings therefore have become public statements of one’s position of power and influence inside the company, kind of like a silver-backed gorilla thumping his chest before his clan. Each committee member or participant in the meeting comes to it with a silently stated agenda or desired outcome – what they as individuals want to “come away with.” The actual matter “under discussion” is often predetermined and decided, in memos, private discussions, “power plays”, emails, etc., so that the physical gathering (or Skype gathering) of the participants is merely a formality “for the record.” When a good manager or administer recognizes this “performance” function in a meeting, he/she will bring meetings to a minimum, dealing with communication in other ways. Scholars of “Performance theory” have long studied the” performance” of a business person in the public forum of a meeting, where the “audience” is the other members.
In business, meetings are used as a method of communication. It can come at any points, from a more brainstorming-type meeting to determine future actions to a final meeting confirming everyone's agreement as to the business's next steps. They can be one-on-one to serve as a "touch-base" (here's where I am in this project, I plan on doing this with such and such, we are in the final stages of completing this task) or they can be large-scale and include many different parties, including individuals outside of the business who represent other entities with whom the business must cooperate.
Meetings seem more formal than emails and will therefore tackle larger, more significant issues that require the attention of the invited parties. Through meetings, the leaders can better know that they have the full attention of the individuals rather than just a cursory glance at a bland email.
Whether or not a meeting is effective is dependent on the parties involved. If each person is actively engaged and contributes to the topics on hand, it is likely that the meeting will be efficient and the goals accomplished, or at the very least started on. The minutes from this meeting can be used to communicate the results of this meeting to other people as well. On the other hand, if the meeting is not properly led, members are not paying attention or forthright with their opinions, or if different groups take different sides and end with a stalemate, meetings become a waste of time that might have been used targeting the larger issue bit by bit first.