In the first part of this series I explained that, in workplace meetings, the Executive Secretary is a person who supplies the engine oil that ensures the smooth running of the 'engine'. The 'engine' being the Committee, the Board or any group of people who make decisions that ultimately result in the organisation making progress.
The Executive Secretary helps the Chair - before, during and after meetings - by helping him or her to:
1. Prepare and circulate meaningful agendas (before the meeting)
2. Determine who does which action points (during the meeting), and then
3. Chase up the action points (after the meeting) so that progress is made as intended
Every person at the meeting is committed
This vital Executive Secretary role can also be combined with that of the Facilitator. The job of the Meeting Facilitator is to work with the Chair to ensure that the discussions at the meeting are meaningful and the decisions taken are 'owned' by everyone at the meeting.
Owned, in this instance, means that every person attending the meeting is fully committed to making sure that the decisions taken and action points agreed are implemented fully. What about the Chair? Well, the Chair is still in charge but, with a facilitator on hand, s/he can now contribute fully to the meeting without having to worry about maintaining a balance in the debate.
The meeting was all talk and no action
You, like me, may have attended meetings where people have talked a good game but, too often, little or no action was taken. The meeting was all talk and no action. I worked with one committee member in recent times who discovered, to his dismay, that one of the key players at their committee meetings would happily agree to all the action points at the meeting but, afterwards, would only implement the ones he liked. The rest were delayed or deleted from the next set of minutes.
The person performing the deception wanted to avoid effort or challenge
The individual even resorted to changing or deleting the due dates of some points, so that decisions were either delayed or forgotten about all together. When confronted with the issue, the person took great offence and denied doing it. However, notes taken at meetings held weeks and months before effectively condemned him. It quickly became clear to everyone that the person performing the deception wanted to avoid effort or challenge. This particular key player is now playing elsewhere.
The facilitator's role can be made easier when the committee or the meeting adopts ground rules. The facilitator then, during the meeting, reminds people when their words and actions fall short of the agreed ground rules.
Typical groundrules at meetings might be
1. Respect each other's views
2. Keep commitments made
3. Maintain confidentiality
4. Speak one at a time
5. Keep an open mind
6. Discuss openly
7. Listen actively
8. Keep to time
9. Be fair to all
10. Be decisive
By listening attentively, and by intervening appropriately and confidently, a facilitator - armed with these ground rules - can transform many poorly performing meetings. Without the ground rules, meetings mayhem may well ensue!
The facilitator can break the decision deadlock
Another problem a facilitator can help with is the tendency for some people to deliberately delay decisions out of self-interest. The facilitator, by first seeking consensus or, if that fails, by introducing different voting methods, can break the decision deadlock that can be such a discouraging aspect of decision making in the workplace.
A facilitator can remind the meeting that an important decision delayed (one that may have been delayed for a number of different reasons) is a decision in itself. It is a decision to carry on as we are, a decision to not change. It is (so to speak) a win for the people voting no.
A facilitator can break this deadlock by suggesting that the decision being delayed be taken for a 'trial period' so that more meaningful data can be collected. This approach is particularly useful for people who do not want to make a decision until they have all the information they need to make a decision. Much better, perhaps, to run a trial and then make a decision based on the results.
So, if the decision making at your meetings could be better, then consider giving someone the facilitator role. Maybe you could try out the role yourself? Perhaps for a trial period?
In Part Three, I will look at meeting agendas and keeping meetings to time.
If you are having problems and frustrations with meetings at work, and you would like some advice that is specific to your situation, you can get in touch with Frank directly via the contact tab of his personal website: www.franknewberry.com.