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

North London Stitch Up: Saturday 26th April!

Hooray! It’s my birthday today!

Just a friendly reminder that the next North London Stitch Up will be on Saturday 26th April from 3pm at the Windmill pub in Cricklewood and then every fortnight at 3pm on the following Saturdays:

  • 10th May
  • 24th May
  • 7th June
  • 21st June
  • 5th July
  • 19th July
  • 2nd August
  • 16th August
  • 30th August

And so on!

Hope to see you there x x x

Reminder: North London Stitch Up next week!

Hey everyone!

Reminder about the next free knitting group on Saturday 12th April 2014 at 3pm at the Windmill Pub in Cricklewood. If the weather’s nice and you can’t see us through the huge windows, we’re probably in the garden out the back.

Jemma, Red, Louise, Penny, Tessa, Linda and Jenni

Jemma, Red, Louise, Penny, Tessa, Linda and Jenni

As always, feel free to bring a project you’re working on, something you’d like to learn to do, or just something you fancy showing off. We can teach you a range of knitting, crochet, and embroidery techniques at all levels between us.

Hope you can make it!

Best wishes,

Carmen and the rest of the gang xx

Reminder: Free #knitting and #crochet lessons on Saturday!

Hi everyone!

Friendly reminder about knitting this Saturday at the Windmill Pub, Cricklewood from 3pm.

I’ll be working on my waterfall cardigan, a knitted ribbed rectangle so far, which I expect will take me longer than I originally anticipated but hey ho.

Looking forward to seeing what you’ve got to work on.

As always, if you’d like to learn to knit or crochet, please send me an email and I can make sure to bring spare stuff for you to borrow or recommend things to buy if you have the time.

See you there!

Cx

Pattern idea: Waterfall Cardigan

Hi All,

Another successful North London Stitch Up yesterday. We welcomed two new members into the group – Kay and Rachel. A lot of crocheting, which was nice as I’ve been working on a stripy blanket to use up as much of my DK as possible. Some of the yarns in this work in progress have a story – a few gifts from friends, a few that I bought to make gifts for friends and family, the turquoise was from the stash of a friend’s mother who passed away a few years ago, so every time I work on it I’m thinking about the people I love. When people say I should sell the things I make, I don’t think they realise how big a deal it is sometimes to let go of something you’ve put so much energy into!

blanket

Do a base chain row measuring about 6ft, ch3 and then dc into each st, changing colours at the end of each row. My plan is to just keep going and going until it’s a square, it takes about 25 minutes per row. The skull cushion was a housewarming gift from Tessa and is my favourite cushion ever!

So anyway, the point of this blog post. I have a lot of waterfall cardigans. They suddenly came into fashion a few years ago and are extremely flattering for curvy women. You can get them quite cheaply and in really thin jersey knit so they’re ideal to wear in the summer for work (especially to cover up all my tattoos) or in chunkier wool for the winter. The best part is that I think they might be pretty easy to make.

A chunky knitted version of this is what I have in mind.

A chunky knitted version of this is what I have in mind.

Looking at the cardigans I already own, I reckon this would be pretty easy to do without sleeves. 3 rectangles (or 1 rectangle for the back and 2 squares for the front depending on how flowy you want it). Then join them together with gaps left for the arms and finish with a crocheted border. As is my way, I’m just going to start doing it and see how it goes and then post the results here in a few weeks.

I’ve got 4x balls of King Cole Glitz Chunky in 175 Black that I bought from London Haberdashery a few weeks ago. It says on the label to use 6mm needles but based on how I did the cable knit neck warmer I think I’ll try 7mm needles. And I’ll be using the cardigans I already own as a guide for the sizing. When I post the pattern it’ll be in my size so should fit anyone between UK 12 and 16.

Wish me luck!

PS: You might be able to get a pattern for this already for free online. I’ve deliberately not looked into this as I want to design something myself but I have just recently joined Ravelry and have found a couple of patterns I love already. Feel free to add me – carmenliveshere :-)

PPS: I was given this amazing book for my birthday last year about how to make your own clothes. It’s for sewing but a lot of the general principles about shaping and designing are the same, I really recommend it if you’re new to making things and want to make some clothes. You use your favourite clothes as a guide (which is what I’m doing with my cardigan) and though they have step by step tutorials, you can very easily adjust them and make them your own.

Reminder: Knitting today! 3pm Cricklewood

Hi All,

Really quick reminder that it’s the next installment of the North London Stitch Up today!

Hope you can make it – 3pm at the Windmill Pub, Cricklewood.

EDIT: Did I mention it’s free? I’ve been knitting, crocheting and needling things for ages and I’m pretty good at it and get so much pleasure from a hobby with something tangible and beautiful at the end that I would love it if more people could share it with me. If you ever saw someone wearing something and thought “that must have took ages, I wish I had the patience” then the North London Stitch Up is here to help. I crochet on the commute, knit in front of the telly, any time I’m sitting there otherwise doing nothing, I like to make something positive. I don’t earn any money out of what I make but it’s fine if you’d like to. I can also give a bit of advice about how to sell things you’ve made on Etsy or Folksy if that’s your goal.

But if your goal is to sit down with a pint and have a bit of a yarn, then you’re in good company :-)

We can teach you to knit, crochet and embroider (cross stitch, tapestry, or just make it up as you go along). Let me know if you need me to bring anything to help get you started. I’ll have a few spare sets of knitting needles, crochet hooks and DK wool when I get there.

See you later!

Lovely light in the Windmill

Ridiculously warm neck warmer

image

Bought 5 balls of glittery black yarn from Sophie in London Haberdashery and used just under 1 ball on this with a set of 6mm needles.

Initially I wanted to do it in the round but then saw someone on the tube with a horizontal cable knitted scarf and I really liked the way it sat. The twists are pretty easy to do. I bought a kinky cable needle but you could probably use a big safety pin and just slip the stitches back onto the needle. Ymmv.

Anyway:

Cast on a multiple of 18 plus 3
Row 1: *p3, k6* to end of row (RS)
Row 2: *k3, p6* to end of row (WS)
Row 3: *p3, C6f, p3, k6* p3
Row 4: repeat row 2
Row 5: repeat row 1
Row 6: repeat row 2
Row 7: *p3, k6, p3, C6b* p3
Row 8: repeat row 2
Row 9: start back at row 1 and keep going for 18-22in

Sew up the 2 edges to make a cowl. Weave in your ends. Wear it fiercely.

Crochet pattern: super classy loo roll holder

I am attending a housewarming party later in the week, and though I was asked to get Amazon vouchers as a housewarming gift, I don’t get paid for a few weeks so decided to make something super classy instead for the man who will be able to buy anything at all on the internet when I get paid.

wpid-20140302_170423.jpg

OOOOHHHHHHH SO CLASSY

The pattern is really easy, and I’ve seen a knitted pattern elsewhere but wanted to crochet this one so here’s my take on it:

I used acrylic DK in a dark red and a 4mm crochet hook. You will also need a different yarn for the tassel. I used gold thread but black yarn would probably work too. Obviously, though, I needed my loo roll cover to be as CLASSY as possible.

Please note: the ch2’s don’t really count for anything, I just like to put them in there. Some people ch3 and use that in place of a dc. I think this depends on what your tension is like but I find it gives a neater finish if I use a ch2 and 1 extra dc. If this is confusing, just follow the pattern and you will be ok.

Row 1: Begin with a loop and then ch2, 10x dc into the loop. Pull the loose thread to close the hole in the middle and then slip stitch to close (10 stitches in row).

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Row 2: Ch 2, 2 dc into each st, slip stitch to close (20 stitches in row).

Row 3: Ch 2, *dc and then 2dc into next stitch* slip stitch to close (30 stitches in row).

Row 4: Ch 2, *dc in next 2 stitches and then 2dc into next stitch* slip stitch to close (40 stitches in row).

wpid-20140302_130001.jpg

Keep increasing each row by 10 in this way until you’ve made a disc wide enough to fit over a loo roll.

wpid-20140302_131425.jpg

Row 7 (or whatever depending on the chunkiness of the wool etc): ch2 *dc rest of row* slip stitch to close. Repeat until it covers the whole loo roll.

wpid-20140302_160631.jpg

Make a tassel to finish and voila!

Crocheted bog roll fez.jpg

Reminder: Free #knitting, #crochet & #cross-stitch lessons 1st March 2014

Hi everyone!

As the previous event was another roaring success, we’ve decided to do another one!

We hope you can join us at the Windmill Pub in Cricklewood from 2.30pm. It was previously 2pm but the pub doesn’t open until 3, however their manager has very kindly offered to let us in a bit early to set up and we can buy drinks as soon as they’ve opened the bar. The natural light in there is fantastic and they serve real ale, hurrah!

If you’ve always wanted to learn to knit, crochet or embroider, would like to improve your skills, or just want to sit in a nice pub and have a boozy natter over a crafty project, then feel free to join us. Complete beginners are welcome, we can even bring a spare set of needles and wool if you’re not sure what to buy. Just send me an email and I’ll pack a few extra bits for you.

While we’re on the subject of what to buy, I had the chance to visit a brand new haberdashery in Willesden, just a short walk from Kilburn High St, see London-Haberdashery for further details. They’ve only been open since September 2013 but Sophie, the owner, is really friendly and happy to take orders if there’s something in particular you want or need. I bought a set of cable knit needles and 5 balls of black glittery acrylic that I’m using to make a chunky snood. Will post photos once it’s done!

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Carmen xx