Posts Tagged ‘meetings’

Difficult meetings–the elephant in the room

Monday, August 24th, 2015

The other day I had a very difficult meeting to facilitate.  A business was facing a tsunami of troubles, their very survival was at a stake and they needed to plot a course which gave them the best chance of survival.  These things are difficult on many levels.  There are complex business reasons why they are in trouble, some within their control and others outside of it.  However, perhaps the more difficult element of this kind of meeting is the underlying emotions.  They are naturally afraid.  Afraid of failing, and afraid of its consequences.  There is a saying “If you aren’t afraid, you just don’t get it!”

So my job is to not only remain clear-headed, but to help them plot a course through this mine field.  This involves sorting the wheat from the chaff in what is said, and ensuring that everyone hears it too.  However, one of the moments that was most difficult was when I decided to confront head on one of the elephants in the room.  I knew there were some really highly emotionally loaded issues and I took the risk of bringing them into the light.  Some how I managed to do so without triggering any explosions and we could move on. 

The fact is this kind of emotional landmine can blow your leg off even if you try to avoid it so sometimes a ‘controlled explosion’ is the safer option. This kind of thing is always a judgement call, and some people feel more able to do it than others, but like so many things, the secret in is in how you do it.  If you are doing it in an emotionally neutral way, and being honest and unmanipulative about it then you are much more likely to get a good outcome.  If it goes badly, then the chances are it was going to go bang anyway,so better now than later.

Cultural lessons from HTC

Friday, August 17th, 2012

Peter Chou, CEO of phone maker HTC, according to Bloomberg, recently sent out an email to employees complaining that “we have people in meetings and talking all the time but without decision, strategic direction or sense of urgency,” and he also said that when HTC employees did decide to do something, they “either didn’t do it or executed it loosely.”  Also, that employees needed to unshackle themselves from the culture of bureaucracy and just get things done regardless of whether they’re done exactly according to company rules and regulations.  “Don’t let the processes, rules and norms to impact our important goals,” he wrote. “Of course we have to follow certain rules and criteria but don’t let small things kill the major goals… Please make sure that we kill bureaucracy… Stay firm with the hero innovations and make them even bigger and deliver them.”

It isn’t unusual for people to feel that meetings are a waste of time or that rules get in the way of productivity but I can’t recall a CEO publicly saying so before.  Clearly there is a culture that encourages conformity and avoids risk-taking, and it is his job to change that to one that is more productive.  HTC have a good reputation and a good product line that in many ways rivals Samsung’s very successful phones, but it has been having financial problems despite this. 

Far too often in business leaders, as well as workers,  lose sight of what is important, and why they are doing things and how these contribute to their overall goals. 


  1. Bloomberg

When 1 + 1 is less than 2…

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

This insight comes from researchers at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, who have proved that we are less intelligent in groups than on our own. When we are with others who we think are cleverer than us, we respond by becoming even more stupid than we are normally.

The researchers got 70 students together and tested their IQs (all of which were quite high, as it happens) in normal fashion. Then they put them in small groups and gave them another test, telling them between each question how they were faring relative to others in the group. They found that all the students’ scores were lower in the group test than in the individual one, but the IQs of the poorer performers were sharply lower. Those whose IQs fell the most were mainly – surprise, surprise – female.”  Financial Times

It appears that Group Think is just one of the traps that meetings can fall into, being together can actually make you less intelligent!  Unless you make the meeting more than just a talking shop.  It is important to structure them in such a way that you are able to engage everyone and draw on their abilities and experiences.  That is why properly planning and preparing for an important meeting is crucial to its success.  You need to be clear why you are meeting and what you want out of it.  Who needs to be there and how best to structure it in order to get the results you require.  This is just one reason for engaging an independent and expert facilitator. 

In certain cultures it is deemed vital that consensus be reached and meetings tend to be the way this is arrived at but people can easily agree to the wrong thing if the right questions aren’t asked, everyone isn’t listened to.  We have all been in meetings where someone’s point is lost because the chairman is either not focused on them or does not respect them.  It is often this small dissenting voice that is the key to the solution.  Effective meetings are so much more than just turning up and sitting through the agenda…


  1. Business Meetings

Better Business Meetings

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Meetings are often considered the curse of the business world; however, they are a vital tool. The reason they have such poor press is that most people haven’t a clue how to run one! Good meetings, like good food don’t happen by accident, they take careful planning and a lot of work that is unseen by most people attending them. Good meetings, like cooking, are a mixture of Art & Science.

“A meeting is an event where minutes are taken and hours wasted.” James T Kirk

The work falls into three phases:


Firstly you have to clearly decide why you are having the meeting? What outcome do you need? When is it required by?

Who needs to attend?

What preparation do they need to do? What should they bring with them?

Where is the appropriate venue? Onsite or off-site? What facilities and ambiance will help the meeting to be successful?

How long do you need and what is you back-up plan if you need a little more time?

A key to a successful meeting is having a process. This is more than an agenda (although you need one of those too!) A process tells you how you will move through the agenda, what tools and techniques you will use; tools such as brain-storming, voting, and many others. I ought to mention here that brain-storming is far more than just chucking out random ideas. There are multiple ways of doing it1 and it really is quite an art in itself.

You need to decide how you will reach decisions. Do you need to reach a consensus? Must it be unanimous? Will the boss just listen then decide? What kind of voting will you use?

What props and equipment do you need? How do you feel about Powerpoint slides; helpful or do they kill it stone dead?

Do you have a set of ground-rules of the behaviours that help and those which get in the way?

It is important to decide the roles of the various attendees. If you are calling the meeting, you are probably going to chair it. However, there is a whole raft of skills involved in doing this well and they don’t come naturally and require learning and developing. As the chair of the meeting you need to carefully listen to what everyone is saying and this makes it hard to also keep an eye on the process. If the meeting is important, then it is very helpful to have a trained facilitator. It is the facilitator’s job to ensure that the meeting stays on track, that you use the right tools and methods, to keep an eye on the energy levels and participation. If required, it is their job to press the ‘pause button’ and see if you need to either shelve a point, or go ‘off agenda’ and explore it. He is the conductor of the orchestra, and the chair is more like the customer. There also needs to be someone responsible for recording the decisions and action points.

“Meetings without an agenda are like a restaurant without a menu”. Susan B. Wilson


Everyone should arrive before the meeting is scheduled to start, not at the start time. It is important to start and wherever possible, to end on time. If there is a case for over-running, then this should be negotiated, not assumed or happen by accident.

The chair should frame the meeting by reminding everyone why they are there and what is required. Any strangers should be introduced.

The bodily comforts should have been attended to and there should be lots of water there. Lighting, heating and acoustics need to be right.

The facilitator needs to ensure that there is full participation and that quieter ones are not being drowned out by the more garrulous ones. That people don’t say “Yes” when their body language suggests “No”. That the ground-rules are observed (things like no mobile phones! Only one person talking. No reading email in the meeting).

Roughly the meeting will split into two phases, an opening out exploring phase, and a closing down decision making one. The meeting may have a series of these phases.

If the energy levels are flagging, then take a short break but restart on time!

As the meeting draws to a close, the chair must make sure that he has the result that he needs. That people are clear what decisions have been made, what actions will be taken and by whom. If a follow-up meeting is required that should be booked now.

It is often helpful to go round all the attendees and ask them how they felt the meeting worked and what, if anything should be changed next time.


The meeting notes need to be got our within 24hours of the meeting whilst everyone can still remember what was agreed. Everyone is responsible for their own actions. The facilitator and the chair should have a post-meeting debrief.

Every group has its own norms and culture, its own humour and repertoire of tools & techniques, but also every meeting has its own dynamics and it is truly an art to make them work on a consistent basis.

I hope this little guide will help you have more effective meetings in the future.

“Many people attempt to save time by not planning. This false short cut guarantees that everyone will spend more time later.”