Tag Archives: committees

“The Micro-meeting”

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…


“Microbiology Committees, What works and what doesn’t”

These thoughts are based on several years experience sitting on microbiology, infection control and antimicrobial stewardship committees.

Committees per se get bad press. Just click here for some negative quotes on committees! However I don’t think they are always as bad as made out, and are probably a necessary evil in order to avoid autocracies and dictatorships.

Here is what I think works and doesn’t work on committees, microbiology committees if you like…

What works:

  • Having Internet access and electronic access to policies within the meeting room. No excuse for not having this facility in the digital age.
  • Small number of people on the committee. Any more than six and it’s an uphill struggle for any kind of consensus. Plus it takes an age for everyone to have their say….
  • Making a decision on every agenda point. Make deferring a decision a last resort as opposed to the norm. If the decision is “wrong” it’s usually not the end of the world anyway.
  • Strong chairpersonship. Striking a balance between giving everyone their say, and moving through the agenda. Also important for getting decisions made, as above.
  • “Guest appearances”. Attendance at meetings from people in specialised areas when required can be very useful. Make them feel welcome , and important.

What doesn’t work:

  • Reporting to another committee. A committee reporting to another committee can be too much bureaucracy to bear sometimes. Happens all too often in large institutions.
  • Disengaged committee members. Committee members that don’t want to be there of little use. Best to replace with willing participants where possible.
  • Sub-committees. Theoretically sounds like it might be a good idea. In my experience though, virtually useless.
  • Silence. A non-contributor in a committee meeting may as well not be there.
  • Long meetings. Two hours is my concentration limit. This seems to be getting shorter as I get older!
  • The name “committee” as already mentioned does not always carry good vibes. Could consider replacing it with something more original.

What sometimes works:

  • Skype, teleconferencing. Obviously gets round the distance issue, but sometimes there is nothing quite replaces face to face interaction….


p.s. I have added a few MCQs on Staphylococcus aureus