Teach & Serve IV, No. 30 | I Know Two Things…

Teach & Serve IV, No. 30

I Know Two Things…

February 27, 2019

I know two things: Some meetings are good; some meetings are bad, and the responsibility falls on the organizer of the meeting.

In the Barry Levinson film Wag the Dog, the wonderful William H. Macy has a number of bon mots which he delivers perfectly. Perhaps the best of these is this:  “I know two things: There is no difference between good flan and bad flan and there is no war.”

For the context of the comment, do watch the movie. It is a very good satire of media and politics and features a great cast.

I mention this quote because it reminds me I also know two things: Some meetings are good; some meetings are bad, and the responsibility falls on the organizer of the meeting.

I have written previously about meetings and their importance and I am very much in support of holding any and every meeting that needs to happen. However, the success or failure of a meeting rests, largely, upon the manner in which it is executed.

Good meetings do not just happen. They have to be planned for and they need to be run. Therefore, good meetings have chairs (not always the formal leader of the school or the department, etc.) who prepare in advance and pull the meeting together. They run the process during the meeting. They ensure all things that must happen after the meeting are handled.

In my experience, meetings go far better when participants are supplied agenda for the meeting which they must attend. It actually shocks me when I am asked to go to meeting with no agenda. In fact, I have said to those with whom I work that, except in some case of standing meetings, if I invite them to a meeting without an agenda, they should refuse to come. I am not kidding about this. Effective meetings have agenda, and those agenda are published and distributed to participants well in advance of said meeting.

The agenda lists the topics to be addressed, for sure, and also lists the people who will be engaged in each topic. Further, the agenda indicates what action will be taken in the meeting concerning each topic. Is this a topic for discussion? For decision? For brainstorming? Why is it on the agenda in the first place? Also, solid agenda list what outcome is anticipated for each issue and the amount of time allotted to them.

Finally, the meeting has published start and end times. The end time is the most critical. Good meetings end when they are scheduled to end. If items must be pushed to the next meeting, so be it. People have schedules to which they need to attend. Meetings that do not end when they are supposed to infringe on schedules and force difficult choices on participants: are they to be late to their next port-of-call or will they lose out on what happens in the portion of the meeting they miss? Putting people in position to make that kind of choice is avoided by a well-run meeting.

Once the meeting has concluded, minutes of the proceedings should be distributed as widely as possible. Everyone in the meeting should receive them and it may well be appropriate to share them with the broader community. Minutes should accurately reflect what has been said in the meeting and, likely, cannot be compiled in real time by the chair of the meeting but by a recorder. Memorializing what has been taken up in a meeting is an important part of the total process of running a good one.

Certainly, one must be flexible when creating agenda and when running a meeting. There will be exceptions to each-and-every item listed above. But, when people know in advance what they are doing in a meeting, what will be discussed, what role they play and when the meeting will wrap up and these things are adhered to more often than not, they are far more likely to come to meetings in a positive frame of mind.

I know two things: Some meetings are good; some meetings are bad, and the responsibility falls on the organizer of the meeting.