Meetings Revisited

Meetings Revisited

Through meetings, an organisation, which is a microcosmic representation of the genius of human organisation, forges a common agenda amongst the denizens of the corporate jungle to meet the survival of-the-fittest world of Business.


Meetings have been one of the driving forces behind mankind’s emergence as the dominant species on Earth. As Yuval Harari expostulates in his seminal work “Sapiens”, humans as such have emerged mainly on account of their unique ability to organise themselves into families, clans, bands, tribes, and nations. Meetings – when two or more people come together to discuss a topic – is a vital cog in the wheel of this organisation of humankind. Business, in general, and corporate life, in particular, revolves around meetings. It is through meetings that the Organisation, which is a microcosmic representation of the genius of human organisation, forges a common agenda amongst the denizens of the corporate jungle which enables them to meet the survival-of-the-fittest world of Business.


It is difficult to imagine a scenario where any business can be transacted without any meetings, least of all, corporate functioning. It is then expected that meeting, as a topic of research – is a well-worn one.


Today, we live in virtual times more than any other time in our history. The COVID19 crisis has ensured that the boundaries between office and home have all but disappeared – in most cases, reduced to a couple of steps that it takes us to move from our office at home to the living room. Our people contact is now limited to virtual meetings – Zoom, Teams, Webex, etc. These virtual meetings have added a new dimension to the way we manage meetings. Here are a few things that have changed –


1. It is difficult to retain participant interest over a long period. Opportunities provided by the virtual platform to switch-off without being noticed also add to the temptation of distractions.


2. The computer screen places an increased strain on the eyes and also on the brain of the participant. Many currently used virtual meeting platforms do not easily allow participants to see a PowerPoint presentation, the presenter and the other participants, all simultaneously in full view. It is not possible to see the body language of all meeting participants in a virtual set up.


3. Since these virtual meetings today often replace all forms of interpersonal contact, a simple coffee machine conversation transforms into a virtual meeting. This results in blocked calendars and back-to-back meetings. Working for global organisations means operating in different time zones that add another level of difficulty that we have often not previously experienced.


While acknowledging these challenges, one must try and find some means to manage these. This is imperative to be able to emerge as winners in the post-COVID world which, as most acknowledge now, would enforce much more intense virtual business interactions than earlier.


In the past few months, one has seen improvements in the virtual meetings that one has been a part of, in terms of seamless conduct and efficiency. The conduct of these meetings has changed, and I have tried to observe these changes, reflect, and distil what I believe are some pointers to make our virtual meetings more productive.


It is important at the beginning to find ways to connect emotionally with the participants. Checking in with them in terms of where they are in their mind, heart, and body goes a long way to get people feeling connected. It declutters the mind and promotes mindfulness. This is a great way to start a virtual meeting. A few minutes invested at the outset goes a long way to ensure sustained engagement through the rest of the meeting.


1. Professional facilitation for important meetings is an investment well made.


2. Clearly, understand the purpose of the meeting – is it to report the progress of a project or to brainstorm a new concept? I have experienced that trying to do both in one meeting could result in some amount of cognitive dissonance that detracts from the effectiveness of the meeting related to the quality of the output. If both the objectives are a must to include then splitting the meeting into two sections with a 5-minute break in between certainly helps.


3. Given that meeting spans need to be kept shorter given the challenges of the virtual format, pre-reads are very important. Participants need to be given a chance to pre-read for the meeting, which ensures that the limited meeting time available can be productively used for pushing the agenda forward through value-added discussions, rather than going through what has already been achieved.


4. Meetings are normally scheduled with half-hour time blocks. It is important to keep in mind that the meeting time blocked is the outer time limit and one can close the meeting early if the objectives are achieved. A one-hour meeting can finish by the 43rd minute, if the objectives are met. One would be surprised to see the smiles on faces when this happens and further, gives a message that the organiser appreciates the efforts and time of the participants which further motivates enthusiastic participation in the next meetings.


5. Finally, I would strongly avoid back to back meetings as they tend to drain one and the quality of one’s output drops significantly. A half an hour gap between meetings is ideal to capture the take-aways from the earlier meeting, reflect, organise todos and then prepare for the next meeting. I, personally, find this very refreshing and helps me centre myself for the next engagement.


Clearly, meetings are essential because they provide us with the opportunity to connect with people, share thoughts, engage in energising conversations, and, of course, align on a common steering course. The question to deliberate is whether we want the meeting to be a part of “good sangha” or “bad sangha”. Sangha is a Sanskrit word that means an association, assembly, company, or community. Good sangha nourishes us with noteworthy dialogues and helps to make progress. It energises us. Bad sangha strains us and depletes our energy levels. Meetings have the potential to lift our spirits – we need to adapt ourselves with agility to ensure that this potential is realised.


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Ashish Pradhan is President, Siegwerk India & Greater China. He comes with over 25 years of experience in the Packaging industry and has worked in Huhtamaki, Positive packaging, Henkel and International Paper. Ashish is a Mechanical Engineer with a Management Degree and holds a Diploma in International Trade, from the Indian Institute of Materials Management and a Diploma in Packaging from the Institute of Packaging, UK.


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