It ought to be the simplest thing; you receive notice of a meeting, show up at the right time expecting things to unfold in a certain way. But each and every day businesses and organisations run loads of meetings with participants having no idea of the specific purpose of the meeting.
A typical challenge is what journalists would refer to as angling, whereas authors and screenwriters may call it a messy plot. Meeting attendees may have access to information but still lack the bigger picture and will not be able to finish this statement “The reason for having this meeting is…” And how are participants supposed to get ready and capable of contributing in these cases?
Information asymmetry may sound academic and theoretical, but is a main issue in these kinds of cases. The person in charge of and calling for the meeting will have too much information but shares too little with others, leaving colleagues at a loss regarding the agenda and the subsequent point of the meeting. Especially in organisations undergoing changes is this a major problem as guesswork around the water cooler quickly seems established facts while rumours are taken all too seriously. Lacking clear and simple communication leads to interpretations of things not made explicit.
Saved by the purpose statement
One way of counteracting meetings with no direction is making a purpose statement. Before sending out notice of a meeting the person in charge should be able to end the sentence “The purpose of this meeting is to…” It may sound cheesy or banal, but give it a go – and you just might find that it is, in fact, no easy task.
Another way could be giving meeting participants the job of defining the purpose, opening the meeting with everyone taking a few minutes to contemplate and stating the purpose in a mere ten words.
Working with purpose statements increases the focus on participants being informed and well-prepared, and you will gain important insight into the meeting culture of your organisation, the way your colleagues work with preparation, as well as your own skills in communicating the goals and themes of your meetings. It stands to reason, that this knowledge will be of value to you as well as your organisation.
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