Running Useful and Successful Meetings

Planning

Without wishing to write 1000 words on sucking eggs, depending on the size/importance of the meeting, planning can range from sending out a calendar invite the day before to months of organising. For larger meetings, events coordinators are your best friends and is an often under-appreciated skill for those with the luxury of paying someone else to do it.

I have a short but extremely handy checklist for meetings:

  1. Getting it in the diary
  2. Venue
  3. Catering (if needed)
  4. Papers/presentation (if needed)
  5. Thank you emails/calls

Sometimes it’s easier to get something in a CEO’s diary than it is to book a good venue, but more often than not it’s the other way around. Over the years, I’ve been able to compile a list of local and cheap venues for areas I’ve worked in that are easy to get to and suit the purpose for different types of meetings. When I was a student, I learnt the value of holding meetings in places that people actually wanted to go to, which is why my first few team meetings were held in the chocolate shop in Harrods! The rest of my team was from all over the country, so adding in the touristy element ensured they all wanted to be there, and the hot chocolate made sure everyone stayed. What a perfect meeting place – surprisingly quiet during the day, really good coffee and chocolate (caffeine and sugar = perfect student sustenance) and it injected some fun into our project.

Nowadays, my knitting group is held in our local library café – easy to get to, loads of free knitting resources if we want to look something up, and a loyalty card so your 7th coffee is free! Not to mention free wifi, really good light, and plenty of space for new members (of which there are many every week). Before then, we were in a local pub with a beer garden, just fantastic for summery Saturday afternoons.

Know your audience and make useful friends

If your meeting is open to the public, make sure it is accessible to them! I cannot believe how many organisations fail at this basic concept. Accessible doesn’t just mean wheelchair friendly, it also means a time of day more people can attend, within reach by public transport, and child friendly in case childcare cannot be arranged.

The most useful person for booking meetings is always the PA/Secretary to the big kahuna. Not only do they have access to their calendar if their attendance is needed, but they also know the best, cheapest and size appropriate venues in the local area, their expertise is invaluable but it’s not your job to delegate to them and everybody loves thank you treats, so don’t take the mick. In terms of running a community meeting, engagement with community leaders can mean the difference between bribing your colleagues to make up a quorum and getting 50 people who genuinely care about local issues. Facebook groups, football teams, knitting groups, GP patient groups can all spread important messages about your aim.

Stick to the agenda

Oh man, if I had a pound coin for every meeting disruption that wasn’t dealt with I’d take you all out for ice cream instead.

Rather than moan about how annoying it is when meetings are disrupted, here are some tried and tested methods for your chair to re-rail a derailed meeting:

  1. “X is an important issue. Right now we are focusing on Y, so let’s move X to Any Other Business.”

Read: X is off-topic, however if you really want to talk about it, we can do it at the end

  1. X is an important issue, however it may be better suited to a separate meeting where we can discuss the complexities of X with the most relevant colleagues present.”

Read: X is off-topic, and probably not something that everyone here can meaningfully contribute to.

  1. “Thanks for your point of view, if we can just let [interrupted colleague] finish what they were saying and we’ll get to that in a moment.”

Read: This meeting would go a lot faster if you didn’t interrupt.

One other slightly more unusual method (for regular team meetings) I learned from working in the IT sector is to get everyone standing up (where possible and within reason). People don’t like standing up for too long, so are more likely to push through topics rather than get into the minutiae of every agenda item. This isn’t always possible (or preferred by senior management) but IT WORKS.

Following up

Personally, as chair, I like to take my own notes to make sure the key actions and decisions are logged in my plan. Where it is more appropriate to use a professional minute-taker, they’ll often need a few days to get the first draft of minutes back but will be thorough and accurate. As meeting chair, I take the responsibility for following up with everyone involved in the meeting – attendees as well as colleagues. Making sure actions are followed up should never be left to the last minute, or to the minute taker, who may not necessarily know the intricate details of your project. Spending a reasonable amount of time keeping in touch with everyone involved is such an important part of making sure the meeting was worth it, and not just a way for people to avoid their desks. It also strengthens your stakeholder relationships and keeps your project focused in their minds as well as yours.

batmanmeeting

Some thoughts on Equality and Diversity

Equality-Training

I’ve been told several times in my career that I’m really good at “boring tasks”. I love doing a good job and part of that means taking care of the hundreds of things that go on in the background. Information security, corporate governance, health and safety, and giving people the benefit of the doubt even when they’re acting like bastards.

 

In between contracts, I’ll be writing a series of blog posts about the humdrum practices that office workers typically complain about, mainly in the public sector but can also be applied to the private sector as well, in the hope that I can help to make them easier to understand and less scary for those who want to improve existing practices in their workplaces.

What is E&D?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines equality as:

noun

1 The state of being equal, especially in status, rights, or opportunities: an organization aiming to promote racial equality

2 Mathematics: A symbolic expression of the fact that two quantities are equal; an equation.

And diversity as:

noun (plural diversities)

1The state of being diverse: there was considerable diversity in the style of the reports

1.1 [IN SINGULAR] A range of different things: newspapers were obliged to allow a diversity of views to be printed

The NHS (and many public services and institutions) talk a lot about how they comply with the Equality Act 2010, but in my experience it is rarely put into practice, sometimes for good reason, but often because it’s really hard to do.

 

Ultimately, when you view E&D as a chore, and the people who would be included in “minority” categories are seen as a means to an end rather than valuable assets to the organisation then you’re always going to think of E&D as a challenge rather than something that should just naturally occur in the background.

 

In some parts of the UK, the population is naturally less diverse than it is in the cities, so this piece will mainly focus on London and the South East (as this is where my experience comes from).

 

Examples of organisational practices I’ve witnessed first-hand (who will remain nameless) who otherwise proudly promote their compliance with the Equality Act 2010:

  • Replacing one BME or visibly disabled member of staff with another
  • Ensuring at least one front of house staff (often significantly lower paid) are from BME backgrounds
  • A white senior executive discussing a BME new recruit as a good thing, specifically in order to avoid being accused of racism
  • An organisation putting a lot of resource into updating or re-writing policies to reflect good E&D practices, but then not ensuring those practices are followed in their day to day running
  • Withdrawing a job offer for an administrative role because the recruit was unable to drive (thus automatically excluding anyone with health issues eg epilepsy, wheelchair users)
  • Inaccessible office environments eg no step free access, no toilets nearby
  • Denying special computer equipment to a member of staff because you’ve already used your budget on another member of staff who needed it

 

How can we make it easy?

Prior to recruitment, an equalities impact assessment should be completed before the job description goes out. An EIA consists of the following two questions:

  • Is there potential for negative impact on any groups or individuals?
  • Is there the opportunity for positive impact on any groups or individuals?

The groups that you may need to consider can include (but not limited to) women, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+, older people, those with visible disabilities, those with “invisible” disabilities (eg epileptics, chronic fatigue sufferers). I’ve included a guide from the UK government website below which has a handy form (you should be able to copy and paste it onto a page) that will do as a basic minimum.

 

When writing a job description and person specification, be really clear about what you actually need (and not how you’re going to replace an outgoing member of the team). Does the post really require a bachelor’s degree (something economically out of reach to many young people entering the workplace)? Will they need to be able to drive or is there a car pool/public transport that they can use instead? Is it necessary for the post to be 9-5 (or 9-6 as is becoming the norm) or can the post holder work flexibly around caring requirements outside of work? What is the scope for working from home?

 

For existing team members, ensure equal opportunities for progression are offered to all team members, not just the quick wins. Something I keep hearing from friends and colleagues is that employers have lost their sense of pride in their workforce in favour of churning out products and services. This guarantees your top performers will move away to better opportunities and you will be stuck with those who may be coasting along, working to the bare minimum their job description sets out. A simple equality and diversity monitoring checklist can be added as part of their annual appraisal. Again, this doesn’t need to be a long and complicated document, just a single side with questions about how they find the workplace and any suggestions they might have about how to improve equality and diversity practices, as well as any training they might want.

 

Always budget for special equipment and training. At the very least, this will keep your staff productive and motivated, but on the other hand, will be significantly cheaper than a potential discrimination lawsuit (perhaps equal to one or two hours of a lawyer’s time).

 

Further reading

European Regional Development Fund Equality impact assessment guidance. See Pages 14 and 15 for the EIA form: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/89309/Cornwall_Equality_Impact_Assessment_Guidance.pdf

Equality and Human Rights Commission EIA Guidance: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/documents/PSD/equality_impact_assessment_guidance_quick-start_guide.pdf