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Thursday, 24 November 2011

Just who's calling the shots?

Here's a scenario that I'd like you to consider... see if there's any part of it that you recognise:

There's a company (call it "A Ltd") that has decided that there are far too many meetings and that the meetings that do happen are prone to over running, they lack structure and often leave people feeling frustrated and deflated... and there's a training company (call it "H2 Training") that is invited by A Ltd to run some in-house "Effective Meetings" training, with an emphasis on chairing skills. (So far so good?)

During the morning session, the trainer (let's call her "Tina Halperin") asks the group of learners to consider the various reasons for having a meeting, and whether considering the time and expense of having people attend a face-to-face event, there might on reflection be some better alternatives. It was generally agreed that calling people into a room just to present them with information that they could receive via email, a newsletter or view on an intranet in their own time, seemed not to be a great idea - particularly given how busy people are. In a similar way, it was agreed that calling a team meeting to delegate out work to individuals when there's no requirement for collaboration or discussion is also not a great use of time, as it leaves others sitting observing conversations that are irrelevant to them. (With me so far?)

So, having decided that there are often more efficient ways to distribute information and to delegate tasks, leaving meetings for the creative, dynamic conversations that require collaboration and consensus, Tina asked the learners to think about how they could apply this principle in practice. (The idea being that it would reduce the number of meetings and shorten the meetings that do take place). That's where the problem came... "Oh no, we can't possibly send people information by email or post it on the intranet, because they don't read emails and they never look at the intranet!" and "Yes... but when we ask people to do something without having it witnessed by the whole team and put in writing in the minutes, they often don't bother doing it!"... so that's why A Ltd has continued to arrange countless meetings at great expense, leaving participants bored and frustrated, because people don't bother reading emails and don't do what they're asked unless threatened by the humiliation of having to be accountable at the next meeting? "Yes, that's right."

So... did you recognise anything in that scenario? I have a feeling you probably did, although I really hope that you will have been as surprised by it as me! It just seems completely nonsensical and convoluted to allow a culture to develop around the unprofessional behaviour of an unaccountable few. My questions are: Why aren't the managers within this (or any other organisation experiencing the same thing) willing, able or enabled to call people to account? And why don't people feel obliged to read internal emails in preparation for attending meetings with their colleagues, or obliged to take responsibility for completing tasks that they agree to?

My feelings are that it is a complex combination of increasing workloads, ineffective time/task management, information overload, lack of decisive performance management and lack of personal accountability. Put that lot together and it's a wonder that anything gets done! Thankfully lots of things do get done and there are hundreds of thousands of conscientious, efficient and effective people getting on and doing their best. I just hope that there are enough people out there to stop for a moment and question the logic behind certain habitual processes and methods, to make sure that they are done for the right reasons - not just as a work-around to compensate for the behaviour of the few unaccountable individuals who end up calling the shots.

Do let me know your thoughts on the matter!