Meetings 101

A meeting today sent me abruptly back to Dilbert's World. Much earlier in my career I was impressed by one company that considered me for a job and actually had a group interview. I believe there were three people asking me questions. What impressed me was they seemed to build on each other almost as if they had planned it. Besides the fact that it was more comfortable the interview wouldn't have been as well done with a single person doing it.

Meetings like that are the things that drive a successful company or organization. Expertise from several perspectives will give you a better picture of any issue. Each perspective if from a knowledgeable professional can add to the picture and address issues from that vantage point.

Just having group meetings because that's the way to do it is a totally different thing. The meeting I was in today for example began with showmanship and ended in mass confusion. Besides myself there were 3 other staff members and 3 representatives of a vendor. They didn't know enough about what facts they needed to gather to present their proposals. That didn't prevent them from trying to show off what they knew or thought they knew about their area. Instead of creating a picture from multiple perspectives they created a maze.

Early in the meeting there was an official opening by the department head about what he wanted and want possibilities were in the future. Then he left. A few minutes into the meeting the discussions started to break down as several people wanted to be heard. Soon everyone was paired off with someone else in separate discussions. It wasn't a round table but it was definitely a circus.

After the first round of discussions started coming to the end and each of the three had thought they had everything figured out the group meeting started back up with each team correcting others in the meeting. Papers were shuffled and some of those conclusions were challenged and corrected supposedly. As we adjourned there was a blank look on the faces of the vendor representatives as they began to question what they had learned.

The biggest obstacle to cognizant communication is showmanship. Not only does showmanship often hinder the exchange of information I repeatedly heard participants exchanging misinformation as they tried to impress others in the meeting. I've never been much of a fan of committees and meetings. Occasionally or maybe on rare occasions you have something to learn from the input of several different people. On most occasions however group discussions create confusion not clarity and the more people you involve the more confusion.

I've been reading Dilbert for years and see the comics played out everyday on and off the job but it boggles the mind why companies organize such demonstrations by several people with titles and college degrees when they could allow one intelligent person to solve a problem. In fact I had prepared for this meeting and had arrived with all the documentation and plans that they needed and just waited for someone to request it. As is often the case they were so clueless they didn't know what questions to ask. Successful solutions require a clear view of the problem otherwise the solution is meaningless to them so I kept quiet. That's actually a biblical concept. "Don't throw pearls to swine or valuables to dogs." (Matt 7:6 my paraphrase)

Fortunately I was able to make a few corrections later in the day as I talked to one of the most cognizant of the members. Unfortunately after more meetings and the plans are in place they will discover that there are still lots of missing pieces. And there will surely be more meetings for that. Hmmm. I wonder if Wally made a fresh pot of coffee. I think I understand his complacency more every day.

While I love the humor of incompetent management I much prefer excellence in whatever you're doing. So here's one tip for you. If you are going to have a meeting have at least one person preside over it that is prepared and that knows what is going on. He should be able to put together information from the other participants if they know anything about their area of expertise. Just because you have a group meeting doesn't guarantee successful solutions. In fact the more people the more confusion. If it involves vendors trying to sell something that may be a good thing for them not you.

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