Are Meetings Help Or Hindrance?

Meetings can be the bane of corporate life. There are those endless meetings, where much gets said, but little or nothing gets decided conclusively. Then, there are meetings which get hijacked by a few dominant or disruptive players. Then there are meetings which serve as superficial covers for hidden agendas and corporate games. Most employees are in agreement when they admit they loathe meetings and would rather get back to work. However, this is not the most ideal status-quo.



A Time to Meet, Track And Challenge

What is the original purpose of a meeting? To serve as a common ground where people can come together, share information and air out concerns. It’s an opportunity to mingle with peers and collaborate on what must be the next plan of action. Meetings are educational, instructional and social in nature. You can use meetings to foster better connections, deepen understanding and mobilize practical problem-solving.

Meet, Bridge Gaps, Solve

But, they needn’t always be about work. Employees in large organizations tend to go through their entire tenures without meeting and connecting with colleagues from other departments and teams. Annual conventions, intended to bridge this gap, aren’t a strong enough solution. Why? Because they are not frequent or inclusive enough.

When a company wants to implement structural changes, meetings are perhaps one of the most essential parts of managing the transition, and establishing a new company culture. You can use meetings to build bridges between employees and departments. Only then can then effectively identify issues, as and when they arise and propose fitting solutions.

Make Meetings Safe Spaces

If the existing status-quo is to consider meetings a waste of time, how can a company change that mindset? What can a company do to help its people to not just meet each other regularly, but to open up and speak freely about things beyond work? This is particularly relevant when a company is considering redefining its organizational structure. Off-work meetings can play an important role in creating the safety for people to speak up and raise issues.   

On the same note, organizations and leaders need to keep in mind that people are creatures of habit and that they won’t be able to make everyone open up immediately. It requires time, a lot of meetings and patience to keep encouraging people to speak up and actively participate. Eventually, even the most introverted people will begin to speak out. And, that’s when the meetings will really start to take flight and assume a new meaning for everyone.

Moving From The Hierarchical to The Horizontal

In Semco’s case, the company quickly learned about the importance of meetings as they started down the path of change. When Ricardo Semler decided to transform Semco’s organizational structure into something that was more democratic and horizontal, he began thinking about and collaborating with his top-level leaders on how to do it. The question was never whether they had to do it. Instead, they focussed on coming up with ways in which they could create a democratic workplace that inspired people.

Semco’s First Step

Their discussions made them realize that they needed to create safe spaces for people to talk to each other. They decided to add another set of meetings to the existing set of general, departmental and team meetings. They weren’t doing this to add more bureaucratic red tape - for that would have gone against everything they were aiming for. Instead, they meant these meetings to be sanctuaries where people could meet, discuss, debate and resolve issues together.

At these meetings, the primary focus wasn’t business but people. Over time, approximately three years later, Semco started noticing tangible differences in the way its people communicated with each other and treated each other. The meetings broke barriers, built bridges and forged lifelong connections - all of which has contributed to the company’s revolutionary democracy and phenomenally low turnover rates.

Safety Is The Keyword

If a company aims to step away from conventional, top-down management practices, then it needs to do so in a collaborative manner. By collaboration, we mean getting employees of all levels involved in the transition. In general, people blindly follow corporate directives, even though they personally resent them. More often than not, people hesitate to speak up when something is amiss because they feel insecure in their jobs.

When people systematically refuse to speak up even when they don’t agree with something, it indicates a deep problem - one that will take time and patience to weed out. The first step towards addressing this problem is creating safety for people to speak up.

When do we feel safe to speak up? When we are around others we know well. So, then, the real first step is to create as many opportunities as possible for employees across departments and teams to meet and mingle with each other. Not as co-workers, but as real people. Once people feel safe enough to point out what’s going wrong where, the management will no longer need to second-guess what the problems are.

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