MEETINGS…in all their glory, are an obvious reoccurring theme in this blog.
I’ve gotten a lot of feedback about my critique of meetings, largely from friends in the corporate or for-profit fields. Often their comments sound like this “seriously? I would walk out of a meeting that was that pointless, time is money” or “if somebody is multi-tasking in a meeting, either the meeting doesn’t have enough focus, or the people in your meeting are the wrong ones”. Interesting points….which makes me ask if meetings in the non-profit and public sector are different from those in the for profit world. The ultimate goal of the for profit industry is to make more money-so naturally meetings would be a strategy to make this happen. The goal of organizations in the non-profit sector is varied and sometimes foggy. This reality can create a meeting monster that results in confusion of the meeting purpose and varying levels of disengagement from those in the meeting. Engaging people in a meeting with a foggy goal or purpose is difficult at best. Add generational differences in how we define the goals and purpose of organizations and it gets uglier.
One strategy for success in negotiating this mess is good meeting management & understanding how to engage people of all generations in meetings. I’ve discussed the purpose of meetings in other posts but how we build our agendas, what we do in meetings and how we deal with the need to engage our volunteers and staff is worth more discussion.
How to engage gen X you ask? Well….here is an example of how not to engage younger generations….
I recently sat through a two-hour meeting where all we did was share information about what we were busy doing, tasks people planned to do and information on things we could do. I think eating a dirt sandwich would be more enjoyable and worthwhile. I would rather hear about what you accomplished and how it has resulted in change or allow me to chime in with my thoughts about a decision that needs to be made. Spending valuable face to face time just chatting about information I could spend 5 minutes reading in a written report is not a good use of my time. I would prefer to come to a meeting to make a decision, share information you are not able to get elsewhere and capitalize on the group dynamic to get discussion and movement toward a common goal.
But that is just me.
I’ve observed that some people find great value in spending entire meetings sharing information and talking about activities, namely boomers and traditionalists. The process of sharing information is a strategy left over from days where instant electronic messages, online information sharing and anytime/anyplace communication strategies were not so prevalent. You had to wait until you saw a person face to face to get their report-or wait for snail mail to send it to you after somebody typed it out on a typewriter. Meeting agenda’s are still built around “old business” and “new business”, committee reports etc. . It is an unusual meeting agenda that is built around what outcomes have resulted from activities or what decisions do we need to make today in this meeting.
The solution?….. having a meeting with a good healthy mix of strategy and creative management for the group you are leading. First, be clear about why you are meeting. Meeting for the sake of meeting is not quite at the level of Dante’s seven deadly sins…but seriously, be clear with your purpose of bringing people together. Second, allow for sharing time for those that prefer that process. Third, add in decisions that need to be made and outcomes that can be reported on from activity of the group. If possible, ask the group what amount of each process they prefer. If you have an entire group of GenX’ers I would guess you’d want to have written reports on progress/activity and spend more time on dialogue leading to decision-making. Big group of boomers?….more time on sharing.
At the very least…consider your meeting management in the context of generational difference. Discuss what processes your group prefers and how to build your agenda around it. I would bet the result would be more engagement and better progress toward your goal.