Monday, January 30, 2012

Meetings - Part of our lives

I hate meetings! The type of meetings we have in offices, clubs, voluntary and other organisations where discussions go on without any direction. Articulate members tend to dominate a discussion, arguing on a point endlessly. Not allowing the group to come to a decision.
In the last five decades of my working life, I have obviously attended thousands of meetings. In the early years, I have as a Junior Executive taken copious notes of meetings with clients and prepared detailed minutes for circulation and action. While I enjoyed participating in the deliberations of such meetings, I hated them as a non smoker! As there were no restrictions on smoking those days, the meeting rooms used to be a smokers paradise but hell for non smokers.
In later years, as the CEO of a company or as the Chairman of various voluntary organisations I was associated with, I have had the privilege of presiding over meetings. I would always ensure that there was an Agenda, with supporting explanatory notes to ensure that the meeting was always focused. I would also try my best not to allow any articulate member to stray away from a point under discussion. And if a debate was necessary to discuss a hot topic, then after disposing off the routine items on the agenda, I would devote specific time for eliciting views from every member present allowing a few minutes to each one of them. At the end of the discussion, I would put the motion under debate to vote so that the majority view prevailed and a decision taken. Even if the final decision was against my point of view, I would go by the majority decision. I have always believed in the democratic process.
While there are Chairmen of organisations who come fully prepared and are always in control of the meeting, there are others who come for a meeting without even knowing what the agenda is. When I asked one such chairman of a voluntary organization what is the agenda for the meeting, he quipped
“What agenda? I will ask the Chairman of every committee to report on his activities and that is it”.
A few others who are autocrats come with the clear idea of forcing the committee members to accept decisions they have already made on issues. Meetings are just a formality for such Chairmen.
On the other hand there are weak chairmen, who come well prepared with agendas but who have no control over the meetings. They cannot stop a member waxing eloquent on a topic not even under discussion; or stop a few others exchanging gossips among themselves when a serious discussion is going on. To participate in such meetings is very painful.

Talking about members who attend such meetings, one can write a thesis on the subject.

There are a few who arrive on time fully prepared to participate in the discussion. There are others who always walk in late, invariably at the fag end of the meeting giving some excuse or the other for their delay. Obviously such members are more interested in the fellows(h)ip or Dinner that follows a meeting. Some are eternal grumblers; always complaining about something which has been done or not done. They are the typical armchair critics, many of whom fail miserably when given a responsibility!
It is not unusual to find members with peculiar or irritating habits on full display during a meeting. I know of a friend, who had the amazing ability to go to sleep within 15 minutes of the start of any meeting! While a serious discussion was going on, he would suddenly wake up and make a point or express an opinion which was surprisingly very relevant to the point under discussion. Without waiting to hear the response from others, he would again slip into sleeping mode. Obviously while his body was in sleep mode, his sub-conscious mind was participating in the discussion!!
There are a few who keep busy, picking their noses or trying to clear their ears of the accumulated wax while giving the impression that they are seriously listening to the discussions in progress. Some draw caricatures on the writing pad given to them for taking notes; or there are those who take frequent “Bio” or “Dhum” breaks!
In today`s world driven by technology, you will find guys busy browsing through the net on their laptops while attending a meeting. This happens mostly in office meetings or at lectures in Management Institutes. Some of these guys are good at giving an impression that they are actually taking notes from the meeting, by regularly nodding their heads. Thanks again to technology; Video conferences or Teleconferences of people located in different parts of the country or the world are increasingly becoming popular, especially in the corporate world. Saving a lot of time and money for every one involved with such online meetings.

Whether live or online, whether you like or hate it, meetings are an integral part of our working lives!

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