I attend two or three meetings a week, related to laboratory management, infection control or antimicrobial stewardship.
I am a strong believer in the philosophy that the productivity of the meeting (in terms of making decisions and getting things done) is inversely proportional to the size of the meeting group or committee.
“A meeting of two people is optimal, four is acceptable, six is just tolerable, more than six and it becomes a bureaucratic nightmare. Too many people having an opinion, and the goal of consensus becomes a pipe dream.”
Simply put, I prefer “micro-meetings”. For large group meetings, I strongly recommend the formation of an “executive committee” so that decisions can be taken and outcomes effected.
Here are a few of my other thoughts and observations on meetings over the years. I actually don’t mind (most) meetings, and I enjoy the social and anthropological side to them…
- Keep smartphones out: I have occasionally been guilty myself of using smartphones during meetings, but less and less so now. At best it is distracting, at worst it is rude and disrespectful to your colleagues. Leave your phone in your pocket, or even better give it to someone who can take messages for you. There is very little in laboratory practice (or Facebook) that cannot wait for an hour.
- Contribute: There is very little point in going to a meeting if you don’t contribute, best not to go at all. If you feel you have nothing to contribute, then you are in the wrong meeting, or possibly even the wrong job.
- Don’t dither: “Parking” items just delays a decision from being made. You need to have a very good reason for deferring a decision on an agenda item. Just make a decision, in the appreciation that it might not always be the right one. Deferring just prolongs the agony. A good chair is essential for this point.
- Keep it short: My concentration span is only 1 hour, so any meeting that goes beyond this I tend to struggle with. Also, don’t feel obliged to stay glued to your seat for the whole hour. Get up, wander, have a coffee, whatever…
- Keep to the agenda: When it’s finished, it’s finished. For example (and you will relate to this), the meeting is scheduled from 3-4pm. However you finish the agenda items by 3.30pm and then fill the remaining half hour up with small talk, gossip and meandering discussions. Don’t… When the agenda is complete, get the hell out of there! And never include “AOB” as an agenda item. That is just inviting trouble.
- Avoid teleconferences: I have a personal phobia of teleconferences. I avoid them wherever possible. Telephones were designed for one to one interactions, but are simply awful when applied to groups. Videoconferencing is marginally better but still falls well short of face to face.
Meetings are of course “A Unilateralist’s Curse” . Nevertheless, it is my belief that in order for a policy to be implemented successfully, you do need a critical threshold of colleagues to support it.
Meetings are essentially all about persuasion…