How to: Get the most out of boardroom meetings

A top-level meeting, done in a productive manner, can play a vital role in overcoming problems, achieving business goals and motivating your staff. Without careful planning however, it can often be an unnecessary waste of time creating more problems than it solves. CEO Middle East speaks to the corporate experts to uncover the vital steps towards better meetings for your business

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By  Andrew Mernin Published  September 7, 2006

|~||~||~|Whether there’s an internal company issue that needs to be ironed out or a desire to relay your business goals to the board of directors, meetings are a vital, if often frustrating part of life as a chief executive. Ideally, a planned gathering of senior staff can only have a positive impact on the business, binding employees together and encouraging them to work proactively for the common good of the company. All too often however, an assembly of staff around a table can descend into a mêlée of disagreements, gripes and time wasting which ultimately contributes nothing to the success of the business. According to Dr Tommy Weir, founder of Encore Consulting and professor of organisational leadership at Palm Beach University in Florida, the perfect meeting is one that “has a point, hits the point, ends, and leads to action outside the four walls of the room”. Achieving these objectives however, is not always easy. CEO Middle East guides you through the ten ways to embrace the many benefits of the internal boardroom meeting. KNOW WHEN TO MEET John Kenneth Galbraith, one of the most influential US economists of the 20th century, once said: “Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything”. No doubt these words ring true for many businesses in the region where, all too often, a meeting called, is merely a metaphor for a coffee break or an excuse to get away from the desk. Boardroom meetings, however remain a crucial part of your role, so how do you separate the issues that warrant a meeting, from those that could spell a needless waste of time for you and your hardworking staff? “You have to ask yourself ‘is there a need for a meeting?’ There are too many meetings that are about sharing ideas and not necessarily about meeting specifically outlined objectives,” says Marc Van der Ven, managing director of computer software giant, Sage Accpac. Outline the objectives that need to be met, or the issues to be solved, and consider whether or not they warrant a meeting between members of staff or whether they can be rectified on a one to one basis between you and a colleague. PREPARATION, PREPARATION, PREPARATION Before sending the group email beckoning your workforce to the boardroom, it is essential to prepare your staff for what lies ahead, according to Van der Ven. “Preparation is the most important thing, so you have to ensure that everybody is prepared, knows the agenda and that they know what you hope to achieve in the meeting,” he says. “If you have a meeting about certain issues, you should recommend to members of your staff to come up with some ideas related to them, prior to the monthly meeting,” he adds. When planning your meeting, Dr Weir believes you should ask yourself four key questions: • What information do I need to receive in order for me to stay informed? • What information must I give to keep my staff informed? • What work must I assign in order to fulfil our goals and projects? • What past work needs to be followed up and what needs to be discussed? CREATE AN OPEN FORUM Rather than adopting the ‘I speak, you listen’ attitude where you, as the leader of the meeting, relay your grand business masterplan to your staff, it is vital to encourage an open discussion forum, according to our experts. “I think it is important to ask for feedback and gauge reactions, and it is equally important for a team to be able to dispute and discuss events and plans and to contribute to strategies,” says Gordon Brown, head of trade and investment at the British Embassy based in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi. “I am a strong believer in open conversations with all my staff whether they are senior or mid-management, as well as all other employees. “This is vital to the smooth running of the company,” says Saeed Al-Barrak, CEO of Kuwaiti telecoms group MTC, in agreement. “Without continuous, open, positive conversations we would not have been able to grow from a one country operator to a 20 country operator in less than four years,” continues Al-Barrak. GAUGE YOUR STAFF Having all your senior staff together in the boardroom can provide you with the ideal opportunity to gauge their ability and competency in their particular roles. “Look at their speed of processing, the amount of focus and energy they display, their ability to interact with others and communicate,” says Dr Weir. “Also, determine how prepared they are to contribute and their willingness to take on new items,” he adds. GET EVERYONE INVOLVED Although an open debate — with all staff members taking the floor to contribute their ideas — is a healthy environment for a meeting, achieving that atmosphere is not always easy. While there are those keen to get their opinions off their chests and speak up in meetings, there are others that, despite having a multitude of ideas to drive your business forward, don’t have the confidence to contribute. “In a meeting you have to let everybody have a chance to take the floor. If they don’t do it by themselves, I provoke them to. I’ll be the one to play devil’s advocate because you need to have different opinions in each meeting,” says Van der Ven. “There are people that have good ideas, but don’t speak up — you have to create a forum for them and give them the opportunities to speak.” INSPIRE LEADERSHIP Just as an orchestra needs a conductor to oversee the proceedings, a meeting needs a strong leader — one with the “presence and ability to hold an audience,” according to Phil Popham, global managing director of car manufacturer Land Rover. Despite your lofty position as chief executive, however, it is sometimes necessary to pass on the baton of power and command within the boardroom to one of your colleagues. Van der Ven says it is important that you have a person who leads the meeting, but that this doesn’t necessarily have to be you. “It should be the person most closely linked to the issue or the one with the biggest stake in it and who knows what needs to be achieved,” he adds. SET THE MOOD TO OPEN UP Utter the word ‘meeting’ to many employees and their response will often be a roll of the eyes accompanied by an exasperated groan. There are however, a number of ways to encourage your staff to have fun — as well as being productive — in the boardroom, allowing you to boost productivity and bring more staff input into your company’s meetings. Raki Phillips, director of sales at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Doha, believes a relaxed atmosphere is key as it encourages staff to open up to issues that they might otherwise withhold in a more formal, intimidating setting. And inspiration can be taken from Phillips’ colleagues that have developed their own unique way of instilling a light-hearted mood throughout boardroom proceedings. “To lighten up the mood and allow positive open dialogue I introduced a ‘Sheikh of the Week’ award,” he says. “It’s a recognition trophy that gets passed on from person to person every week. Whoever wins the award presents it to someone on the team by recognising them for going above and beyond the call of duty, then they have the bragging rights of being a Sheikh for a week,” he adds. Another method is to encourage physical activity. “Try to involve more than just the mind, involve the whole person. There is only so much value in having kinetic stuff in meeting rooms such as squeeze balls, slinkies and little gizmos — toys are a great stress reliever and creative enhancer,” says Dr Weir. TIME MANAGEMENT While a substantial amount of time may be required to dissect, assess and solve an internal company problem, without careful time management, meetings can turn into unnecessarily drawn-out events. Van der Ven believes, that by allocating a specific time slot to a meeting, this can be avoided, while you can also boost the productivity of your boardroom gatherings. “I think that no meeting should last more than half an hour to an hour. If you can’t achieve what you want to in an hour, then your company must have serious problems that need to be addressed,” he says. “If everybody knows the agenda, with one person driving the meeting, you can quickly come to a conclusion.” STICK TO THE AGENDA Having prepared your staff, outlined the key discussion areas and set a suitable, informal atmosphere, it is imperative that you don’t waver from the allocated meeting agenda. Ajit Lamba, a senior member of Dubai-based developer Indigo Properties says: “You have to stick to the plan and not deviate. There should be no distractions to the flow of discussion as this will cause flow to be diluted. (You must) maintain momentum, focus and participation.” Lamba also stresses the importance of prioritising your agenda so that important issues are allocated ample time to be dealt with. AFTER THE MEETING You’ve just completed the most productive company meeting yet, thrashing out plans for a new regime set to change the business forever, but how do you prevent things from gradually reverting back to their original state in a matter of weeks, as though the meeting never took place? Having someone to keep minutes of the proceedings is one way to clearly define what has been achieved in the boardroom, but perhaps the most effective way is to constantly re-affirm decisions made during the meeting. “It’s so important to re-affirm what has been achieved in the meeting because you don’t want to have the same meeting a month later, this is a complete waste of time. There’s no point in having a meeting if afterwards everything goes back to normal,” Van der Ven says. “It’s important that everybody agrees on the action items following the meeting. And you have to make sure that there is a date by which time they will follow up on these actions,” he adds. According to Dr Weir, the key to a successful meeting is to implement and follow-up “what happens after a meeting is over”. He recommends setting aside five minutes at the end of the session to ask some simple questions such as: “What did we do today that worked well? What happened that we never want to repeat? Are there any bad habits that we seem to be falling into?”||**||

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