Do you jump for joy when a staff meeting is cancelled?
In your next staff meeting, ask how many people enjoy staff meetings and you’ll get a great response. No matter what profession you are employed in, no one really has anything good to say about meetings. Staff meetings can be purposeful, useful and even enjoyable but mostly they go down like lead balloons and wind people up.
In Michael Armstrong’s book, How To Be An Even Better Manager, he lists 8 reasons why meetings go pear-shaped. He says they:
1. Waste time – too many people natter and chatter, moan and groan, and talk and talk.
2. Fail to produce decisions and can be slow, exasperating and frustrating
3. Tend to be dominated by a few strong personalities
4. Make lowest common denominator recommendations
5. Encourage political decisions where vested interests can prevail
6. Dilute responsibility
7. Are costly in time and money
8. Focus on trivialities
Some of these will certainly resonate with teachers.
We have all sat in meetings that drag on with people who ramble, those that love the sound of their own voices and those that decide to have their own mini-meetings within the main meeting and it all gets a bit chaotic and intense. Meanwhile you’re sat there absolutely seething because it’s late, you’re knackered, rush hour is in full swing and you just want to go home.
Believe it or not, effective meetings do exist and that’s because they are properly organised, effectively facilitated and have a time-limit. Meetings tend to serve four main purposes according to Richard Templar in his book The Rules Of Management:
To create and fuse a team; to impart information; to brainstorm ideas and make decisions and to collect information and make decisions.
There is no doubt that meetings can bring a number of benefits when they are clearly thought through, structured and are held at the right time for the right reasons. Michael Armstrong says the benefits can:
- Ensure important matters receive proper consideration
- Clarify thinking
- Ensure different viewpoints are aired
- Act as a medium for the exchange of information
- Save time by getting everyone together
- Promote coordination
- Promote community and synergy
In the publication Managing Teacher Workload there is a ‘quick guide to meetings’ which draws on the ATL’s workload campaign.
It highlights what good practice can look like:
“Effective meetings have clear agendas, which state the purpose of each item. All those who are affected by or have a part to play in the items (and only those people) should be present at these meetings.”
Not everyone has to be there. Cut teachers some slack.
Whether a meeting is a stonking success or a fabulous flop will depend largely on the chairperson.
If your ‘chair’ allows break-away meetings, waffle and doesn’t keep things on track then a large chunk of staff will sit foaming, bubbling with rage and resenting. It also means your chair is wobbly. Take a look at the brilliant John Cleese video Meetings Bloody Meetings for a light-hearted take on our favourite pastime!
An effective leader will make sure that meetings are properly set up, have a water-tight agenda and enable everyone to participate effectively without hesitation, deviation or repetition.
So what should an effective chair do? Adapting insights from Richard Templar’s suggestions the meeting leader should:
- Define the objective of the meeting and set a time when it will end, no excuses.
- Circulate the agenda prior to the meeting.
- Never schedule a meeting on the hour – schedule an ‘odd time’ for punctuality.
- Make sure whoever keeps the minutes is accurate and have an action.
- Start on time. If you are late then you’ll get everyone’s ‘back up’. Don’t wait for latecomers.
- Get down to business and go through each item of the agenda at a reasonable pace.
- Initiate the discussion and invite contributions, but don’t allow anyone to take over.
- Stop discussions drifting off course and going wishy-washy; include humour.
- Allow disagreements, but step in swiftly to avoid a frosty atmosphere.
- Summarise the discussions and never have AOB.
Chairing a meeting is a real talent and different meetings may require a different approach but whatever the meeting, the chair has to decide in advance what the objective is and make sure that objective is met.
On The Other Side
But this isn’t just about the ‘chair’. What mindset everyone brings to a meeting is crucial.
In his book How To Lead, Jo Owen talks about three rules we need to keep in mind as participants so that we can come out the other end smiling rather than steaming. Jo says that “the rules have been a productive guide for me to ensure that meetings have the right purpose and the right people.”
The three rules for any meeting are:
What do I want to learn?
What will I contribute?
What happens next?
You can adopt these rules and make them your agenda so that you always get a good result, even if a meeting is badly run and nothing gets achieved in the official and formal agenda. This is about having a positive mindset and thinking about what you can extract from the meeting that benefits you. Going to a meeting with your own clear sense of purpose and professional development will help you leave happy.
Can any teacher honestly say that a staff meeting is the highlight of their week? No, I didn’t think so. Sometimes a meeting just isn’t necessary.
It’s a great guide and source of inspiration if you are looking to make your meetings memorable for all the right reasons.
Remember, there is a funny side to meetings and you won’t find better than The Ladybird Book Of The Meeting, a hilarious tongue in cheek look at the wonderful world of meetings.