Just like the cows of Hinduism, the meeting seems a holy institution in Danish businesses and organisations. We have firmly established rituals, strictly observed, and we have holy principles that we shield and protect. But must we always do as usual or could there be reasons for shaking things up and going quite differently about it?
Lector and Ph.D. at the Danish School of Education at Aarhus University, Ib Ravn, advocates a completely new approach to holding meetings. Ravn has published a book called “Facilitating; running meetings creating value and purpose” in which the author criticises five Danish meeting dogma and advises new ways of doing things.
Speak only if you lead the meeting forward
We have a deeply-rooted tradition of everyone being allowed their say, and when the person in charge of the meeting asks for opinions on a given matter, it is an invitation for any odd thought. There might be something clever put to the table, but often this will lead to a number of statements irrelevant to the subject.
The suggestion from Ravn is that we introduce an obligation to only say things driving the meeting forward. The leader of the meeting should allow relevant and encouraging comments, and limit those leading the debate astray or not favouring solutions.
Think before you speak
Everyone will have their say. You raise your hand and take the floor when your turn is up. But does this practice make sense? Doing it this way favours people normally speaking up, and it allows attendees to cultivate their various pet peeves repeatedly.
Consider implementing two-minute pauses of quiet reflection, giving everyone some time to ponder the issues addressed during the meeting. This will allow the more thoughtful attendees a chance to come up with ideas and think through their arguments increasing the chance of getting the quieter ones who usually stay silent to speak up.
Break the line of speakers
Queue up and stay in line. This is true in the supermarket, at a ticket line-up, and it’s true in meetings. But is it really that smart when it comes to meetings in particular?
When someone indicates a wish to speak and waits for others to comment first, the topic may have been worked through and the subject of the meeting have moved on when it’s finally their turn to speak. The leader of the meeting should try to control the discussion and allow comments whenever they are relevant as opposed to giving someone time when their comments divert the discussion and would make more sense at a later point of the meeting.
The leader is supposed to interrupt
Let me finish speaking, please.
This is surely a sentence we have all heard - and probably said – at more than one meeting during our working lives. Not interrupting other people is generally a good principle, but as Ib Ravn notes, there is one person exempt from this ground rule – the person leading the meeting.
The author points out that the leader must in fact take charge and actively pursue the role of being in position to interrupt someone and direct the discussion limiting those talking at length or digressing.
Begin on time
Just as we stick to our place in the queue, we politely await each other. However sympathetic, this is a weak link in the chain of meetings. Waiting for someone who is not in the room when the meeting begins at 9 leads us instead to begin the meeting at maybe 7 or 12 past 9, once this someone has finished their conversation on the phone or has found a place to park their car. Sometimes we do begin the meeting at 9, but when someone arrives late the person in charge will spend a few minutes briefing the late arrival on the agenda and what has been said so far. All the while the rest of the participants are just sitting there twiddling their thumbs.
Ravn has a simple suggestion; begin the meeting on time and whoever arrives late will have to come in and quietly sit down and listen from then on.
This new way of running meetings demands a strong leader and calls for a change in the culture and attitude among the workers. The new habits may, however, result in better and more efficient meetings, and maybe that’s worth a shot?