Getting more out of meetings@work

November 29, 2015

How many times you come out a meeting at your workplace feeling frustrated? Given the context, reasons for frustrations may be different. An ex-colleague of mine used to show his disappointment by calling them NATO — No Action, Talk Only — meetings. I wonder if that is what that made humour columnist Dave Barry to say, “ If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be meetings.”

We need not agree with Dave Barry but we should ponder over the point he made about what goes into meetings and what comes out of them. Only If outcomes are good, inputs and process can be justified.

Meetings are an essential part of the work processes. They provide a forum for discussion, sharing of different ideas, facilitating decisions and ensuring follow up.

Imagine the impact if we could make our meetings at work more effective! Looking into the reasons that hamper the outcome of meetings, I would propose the following points:

  1. Clarity on objective: It sounds obvious but it is not. Objective(s) are not always clearly defined. People spend more time on planning the agenda, little on planning the objective(s). We cannot steer the meeting in the right direction if we are not clear on the objective.
  2. Lack of prioritization: We often discuss a large number of issues, or get into nitty-gritty which can be best discussed in smaller groups. Depending upon the objective and time available, we need to prioritize.
  3. Managing talkative participants: Some people are glib talkers. They have a point of view always. They take most of the time. This affects participation of others who may also have an important contribution to make but do not get an opportunity.

Meetings can be a way to keep employees excited, committed to the purpose, and motivated. Mangers have to take this responsibility.

I would conclude a suggestion: Look at some of the meetings you planned and conducted in past months and ask yourself:

  • Was I clear about the objective and steered the discussion towards it?
  • Did I prioritize issues? Or some important issues could not be covered?
  • Did I manage the time well?
  • Do I know the talkative people in my team and manage them well?
  • Do I allow for ‘quieter’ and even ‘dissenting’ voices to be heard?



How to make the best of training

October 25, 2015

Whether we conduct a training programme or attend one, we want to make the best out of it. I would like to believe so. I just finished an international training programme. I have been conducting this course for the last six years.   I used to ask participants in the last session:  how would you apply the learning of the course? I would get responses but often not very concrete ones.

How to help participants internalize the learning of the course and apply it in their work was always in mind. I did it differently this time. In the opening session, I spoke on “How to make the best out of this training” and shared the following points:

  • Listen to understand: Learning happens only when we listen to understand. We should listen to understand the ideas, concepts and approaches.
  • Participate actively but keep your interventions “brief” and “relevant”: Number of times we notice long discussions during training programmes which deviate from the central theme and do not serve any purpose. Even when participants agree on ground rules to keep their interventions short, not everyone follows them.
  • After every session think and write: What can I apply in my work and how?

These ideas were reiterated throughout the course, including the recap of every day’s learning.  It helped.  The participants were more engaged, looked for solutions and were found sharing ideas with each other during breaks.  The fact that they had to write down action point from each session made them more attentive, focused and results-oriented.

And, we planned the last session on: “How will we apply the learning of the course in our work?” The participants went back to their session-wise notes and came up with specific action points. I was pleased to listen to their ideas for action. I hope they would implement them. I also intend to remind them from time to time.

Are you a good trainer?

November 29, 2014

Let me share a recent experience. I had invited a trainer for a session. The session was for one and half hours. The trainer spoke very well, invited questions and answered them well. However, an hour into the session, she was only on her second slide. When reminded of the time, she had to rush through the remaining 30-plus slides to be able to conclude in time. The end result: the session’s objective was not achieved though participants appreciated the knowledge of the trainer. The trainer felt she could have done better with more time.

I am sure most of us have come across such situations. Each training programme is a great learning experience. I have carefully observed people who are excellent trainers and have tried to learn from them. I find that the success of a training session depends upon three things:

A. Clarity of session’s objective: the destination one wants to reach at the end of the given time;

B. Time management: how does one space out the session. A session plan broadly has three sections — an introduction; the middle portion in which the core message/learning is shared; and the conclusion or recapitulation of key lessons; and

C. Methodology: This is the most important part. How do you engage the participants; how do you keep their interest alive; and how do you bring out the hidden knowledge of the participants. The key is to remember that you are not a lecturer, you are a facilitator.

To sum up, I would say that a trainer should be like a navigator who steers the session towards its destination — the session’s objective. Like a good navigator, he/she should also be able to keep the time and manage the diversions, which may come in form of questions from the participants. Questions should be welcome but only those which are relevant to the session’s objective.

What are you waiting for?

September 26, 2013

I had once invited a trainer for taking a session in one of our training programmes. The training was on HIV and AIDS. The trainer had sound knowledge of the subject.  He did a good session to share the magnitude of the problem and its various aspects. He attempted to inspire the trainees to take action- whatever they could do in their own ways to create awareness – in their families, communities,  organizations- as the epidemic was getting out of control. He went around fifteen minutes over his allotted time. Trainees waited patiently for the session to get over.  Pitch of his voice reached its peak as he moved towards the last few slides that depicted the number of men, women and children getting infected and dying every year, every day and every hour. He said at the end of every slide, “You see the epidemic is getting worse, you need to act now. What are you waiting for?  When he asked a third time – what are you waiting for? One participant responded, “We are waiting for the coffee break?”

Everyone had a good laugh, including the embarrassed trainer himself, who had taken around half of the coffee break time that was to follow his session.

The lesson has stayed with me ever since – Never go beyond your time no matter how good a trainer you are!

Writing on public speaking, I had written in one of my earlier posts – a good speaker is the one who stops when the audience still wants to listen to him/her.  This applies to training as well.