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for Effective Meetings
Rules for Effective Meetings and Brain Storming Sessions
Types of Meetings
Both in professional and personal lives, group discussions, meetings and friendly arguments are a part of our life. It can help us to effectively participate in any of such discussions if we are aware of the rules and etiquettes of such meetings and of our own roles and responsibilities as participants.
Our roles and responsibilities vary based on what type of discussion it is and what we are supposed to contribute. Broadly, the discussions and meetings can be of two types:
1. Meetings for Decision Making: These are meetings which are required for decision making, and where some action is desired based on the outcome of the discussion. At work, most of our meetings are of this category. The discussions are usually followed by a decision and a planned action.
2. Meetings that Require no Decision or Action: These meetings do not need any action or decision making. Communication meetings or knowledge sharing meetings at workplace fall in this category as they are not decision oriented. The other examples of such discussions outside the work place are the group discussions at competitive examinations (like the ones at MBA entrance examinations, and the academic discussions for fun held informally and leisurely with family and friends. (Update:) Today's discussions in social media like facebook are a great example of such discussions.
To summarise, discussions can be of following types:
Discussion for decision making and/or appropriate action at work
This article looks at some of the ground rules of the all the above discussions. Rules of discussion are, of course, extremely important at work. The article also discusses how we can be effective in competitive group discussions and impress the selectors. Even friendly discussions at times turn into heated discussions resulting into ill feelings unless we understand the ground rules. We shall see how we can actually enjoy academic discussions without creating ill feelings due to differences of opinions.
Discussion for Decision Making and Action
Characteristics of such Discussions
Business meetings at workplace typically have the following characteristics:
Democratic or Autocratic
Decision making through meetings, discussions and consultations seems to be a very democratic way of decision making. At the same time there are some who believe that decisions cannot be made by democratic means - they need to be forced upon. Democratic approach at workplace does not mean that everyone decides. Decision is still made by one person, but after consulting his or her subordinates and involving them by hearing their views on the subject.
Most often, such decision-maker is a senior person in the organisation. He encourages discussions as it also gives him food for thought. It gives him different directions and alternatives to think into. Finally having heard all, he decides. He has that prerogative as he has to consider other environmental factors that influence the decisions which only he knows and which other participants may not be aware of. Being at senior position, he may have the best overview of the conditions in his company.
Thus, the responsibility of decision making is still with one person. Others help the decision maker by putting forth views, opinions and facts. Based on the views and facts presented, the leader can make a decision.
Therefore the process is normally a mix of democratic process and autocratic process. If the group comes to some conclusion unanimously, it could be a group decision, else the leader decides and that decision is binding on all.
"If they wanted to make these decisions on their own, why did they at all call us for a meeting to consult us?" I have often heard such comments after meetings in which decisions were made. It is a misconception that corporate group meetings are for joint decisions. Most often, decision is still made by one person.
People have the freedom to air their views, protest fervently if necessary, but finally the decision is by one person. The participants generally feel good for having aired their views.
Benefits of Meetings
Some people also make such comments after coming out of meetings, "Oh, it was a waste of everybody's time. Finally he took decision on his own". But they forget that such discussions have other benefits in terms of motivating people:
1. People feel good that they were consulted. This has a positive psychological effect on compliance. The implementation of the action is generally smoother if people have been consulted and informed.
2. People feel that they have at least expressed their views.
3. Sometimes it helps people to let off steam or pent-up frustration which adversely affects performance if not released.
4. Increases employee motivation as they feel that they are part of important decisions.
5. Sometimes excellent ideas are thrown up because of the diversity of thoughts and experiences of the participants.
6. The decision maker is better informed of the repercussions. Not only can this help in a more informed decision, it can also aid in a better planned implementation.
7. A meeting promotes interaction of people and keeps people informed.
Responsibilities of the Co-ordinator
The person who plays the role of a coordinator or leader for the meeting has the following responsibilities. He or she needs to:
1. Define the objective of the meeting. Define the objective of the scheme, policy being debated. This will help ensure that unrelated and irrelevant discussions/comments are avoided. It is more likely that the arguments placed contribute to the goal if the participants are clearly aware of the goal.
2. Define the problem clearly. A small difference in the clarifying the meeting objective or defining the problem can alter the course of the discussion.
3. See that the objective is not lost track of during the course of the discussion. It is very common that one comment may lead to another and the discussion may digress completely from the topic. The coordinator needs to bring back the discussion on track whenever it goes off-track.
4. Give a chance to everyone to speak.
5. Be vigilant to avoid situations where few people dominate and others do not get a chance to speak though they wish to.
6. Gently coax some silent people into discussion. For instance, if Sunil has not been expressing himself, a question like "What do you think of this, Sunil?" can induce him to speak out.
7. See that ideas are not ridiculed and people are not forced to shut up by colleagues without being given a chance to be fully heard. This is a very common pitfall. Sometimes seemingly ridiculous ideas can lead to innovation if they are allowed to survive the "reflexive rejection" syndrome.
8. See that it does not become a dialogue between a few who talk most of the time. See that majority of the participants participate in the discussion.
9. See that people speak one at a time. When they wish to contribute, they raise their hand to request audience.
10. Encourage free communication within the group.
11. Let everyone express himself/herself freely.
12. Encourage different views and ideas which can lead to creative ideas.
13. Create a feeling of togetherness and team spirit
14. Ensure that the meeting is held in an informal atmosphere.
15. Ensure that the meeting is result oriented.
If the co-ordinator is a senior person, he should see that his subordinates feel free to express themselves and to challenge his own views. Participants should have the freedom to air their views, protest strongly if necessary. The meeting co-ordinator should make it clear to the participants that they are free to air their views, but finally in the interest of the whole proceedings, the decision has to be made by the coordinator in case there is no consensus.
When I have conducted meetings, I have encouraged people to freely argue against me. I encourage participants to put arguments and counter-arguments, even against my point of view. But it is made very clear right in the beginning that finally, having heard all arguments and views, the prerogative to take decision is mine.
Responsibilities of Participants: Recommended Code of Conduct
Whereas the Meeting coordinator has a role cut out for him and has clear cut responsibilities, the participants too should be aware that they have a role to play and also have responsibilities as participants. Some of them are discussed here.
Be Open to Listen
1. Expressing views should be encouraged by each participant.
2. No one should discourage anyone from arguing or putting his/her viewpoint, however skewed it may appear to be.
3. Any view, whether looking utterly foolish initially, should be listened to and not be ridiculed. In fact divergent and non-standard views must be encouraged. There is a very high natural tendency of all the participants to nip in the bud some divergent view being expressed.
4. Remember that the purpose of discussion is to have divergent points of view and varied ideas put on the table.
5 The participants must adopt a Brain storming approach to discuss every problem. Listening to new ideas and not rejecting or ridiculing new ideas is a prerequisite for a brain storming approach.
Know the Meeting Etiquettes
1. Respect the individuality and views of others.
2. Participate and encourage participation.
3. Ensure that only one person talks at a time. Raise a hand to participate.
4. Do not interrupt others, or start talking before someone finishes.
5. Do not engage in cross talk.
6. Avoid individual discussions in small groups during the meeting. When one person speaks, others should listen.
7. Be present exactly at the scheduled time of start of meeting.
8. Live participation is required from everybody. At the same time, participants must encourage and let others speak.
9. Participants should strictly adhere to the subjects of the discussion. There should be no deviations or loose talk.
10. Individuals should be brief and precise.
Keep Your Ego in Check
It is important that participants are open minded enough to appreciate that there is nothing personal in arguments. Everyone must realise that the arguments put forth are not for own benefits (though it may often happen, as people will be people) but to achieve the company's or group's objective. There has to be a professional environment. Like true professionals, participants should understand that they do not take remarks personally. You as a participant need to appreciate that people will have different views and if they are expressing their view they are not attacking you but only helping the process of decision-making by discussing threadbare all aspects of a problem.
What would you do if you have a rock or a strange object from Mars in your hand? You would look at it from all directions, turn it around and examine from all angles. Look at the problem at hand as some object you are examining and examine it from all angles and all sides with unprejudiced mind as you would look at the rock. The personal feelings and ego create the problem
Sometimes there may be senior colleagues and their direct reportees both participating in the same discussion. There is a tendency on the part of juniors not to speak at all or not to negate their superior. The boss should encourage their subordinates to speak. It is the responsibility of the boss to keep his or her ego in check and show openness to listen so that the subordinates feel free to talk.
People should have the freedom to air their views, protest if necessary, but appreciate that finally the decision may or may not be in line with their views. The participants should feel good of having aired their views.
All participants should be open minded enough to accept that after all hierarchies are there so that businesses can run. If there is no clear collective decision, the president has the right to decide.
Participants should not feel offended if his/her idea is not accepted. It is not important whether your idea is accepted or rejected. What is important is that the group arrives jointly at some conclusion. If the group comes to some conclusion unanimously, it is good, else the leader has to decide.
Participants must avoid saying "I was always saying this..., had you all listened to me..." They should understand that once the decision is arrived at, it is a collective decision, their own decision. All should accept the decision and the outcome of the decision sportingly, keeping in mind that this is the only way to arrive at a decision, else there would be no decision. In the process, there may be a few wrong decisions, but that is better than no decisions.
This may sound idealistic, but unless each participant appreciates this reality, he or she would be only disappointed and frustrated in meetings.
Technical Meetings & Brainstorming Sessions
Meetings for decision-making could be different based on whether the issue is technical or managerial. Managerial issues tend to be highly subjective and hence chances of consensus are lower because of diversity of opinions. Then the decision maker has to use his prerogative. In meetings where technical issues are discussed, you need to adopt a slightly different approach and strategy. In technical issues, opinions matter less. Most of the time, there can be more objective discussions.
For brainstorming sessions, I have found that there are two very important phases, and each phase has its own unique requirements. The two phases are:
1. Identifying alternatives
The group should not go into discussions of ideas or alternatives prematurely because that is where people have too many arguments/ ideas and you tend to have hot discussions. In the hot discussions, it may happen that you may spend the whole time debating the first not-so-good idea that you hit upon, and may not even identify another alternative which may turn out to be the best. Quite often, before going into discussions of alternatives, I give extra 5 minutes when there is silence and people can really think of new alternatives. If you rush into discussing alternatives, some good alternatives may not even be identified, leave alone discussed. Reserve some fixed time to brainstorm to identify and list alternatives.
'Out-of-the-blue' ideas are required so you need to really concentrate and think exclusively on alternatives for some time. List all the alternatives, however ridiculous it may sound initially. Rejecting some idea spontaneously because it sounds impossible, improbable or impracticable at first go is the second most dangerous pitfall. The group leader here also has to play a critical role in ensuring that ideas are not rejected however unsound, laughable or petty they may apparently be.
Discussions Requiring no Decision or Action
Apart from the discussions at office, which are mainly for arriving at decisions
and thereafter getting into action, there can be other types of
Communication Meetings and Knowledge Sharing Meetings
Such meetings are common at work and outside work environment. Discussions can be one-to-many or many-to-may depending on who has or have the information and knowledge to share. Not many rules apply for such meetings, except that participants must actively participate and share.
Group Discussion in Interviews/Selection of Management Aspirants
Several selection processes have group discussions to assess the candidates. For instance, most of the management institutes have group discussions as a part of their selection process.
I have seen that most of the students go for such discussions with a
misconception that dominating a group discussion will help impress the
selectors. Here are some tips for such aspirants based on my real
experience in the group discussion
for selection to the management institute, IIM Calcutta, for which I did get selected.
The topic was "Can Women make Good Managers?"
i. It gave a chance for other candidates to come out with more divergent views or even opposing views.
ii. It helped change the discussion from a monologue or dialogue to a more participative discussion.
iii. It helped emphasise that it was important for such discussions to have more participants express their views. In real life in businesses, when more diverse views and ideas are presented, there are more chances of a good decision.
iv. By making it clear that what I said was my view and that others may have a different view, I showed my openness to listen to the other side of the argument. I was not insisting that only my views were right and others' views were wrong.
The biggest misconception of most participants in such discussions is that it is important to have the "right" views or "firm" views on the given topic. In fact there are no right and wrong views. There are only views. What is more important is to present your thoughts as just your point of view, be open to listen to other points of view and encourage others to participate so that you can hear diverse views. By inviting more views and opinions you will be seen as helping the process of arriving at a consensus or collective decision.
Friendly Discussion with Family & Friends
The friendly discussions within a group of friends or family members should be looked at more as an intellectual game rather than a debate. They are generally discussions on topics of common interest, on individual preferences, etc. Today, in the world of social media, these discussions have become very common on sites like Facebook, and on reader comments at the end of news articles on the web. Quite often, if the participants do not have the right attitude, they can end up in heated discussions with opposing parties abusing and offending the other. They can end up with the participants feeling very hurt and wretched and can even end up in real violence.
It will help if you remember the following rules of such friendly discussions:
Such discussions must be played as a game and nothing more than that. The moment some participants feel that their egos were hurt during such discussions, there is bound to be trouble.
copyright © Prem Kamble
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