Business Issues  

Effective Communications in Meetings

by Dr KC Chan and Priscilla Tanjung


The authors came across this very meaning article, “Three secrets every business needs to know”. What is mentioned is so truthful and yet corporations big or small often neglect the paramount importance of effective communications in meetings. To highlight the salient points raised about the good, the bad, and the ugly side of poor time management and unfocused objectives in non-value business adding meetings, they are as follows:
• The Good: they help us plan, keep us informed of key developments, and allow us to come together to make important decisions. The plan and decision making are of business value-add. Purpose of exchanging and updating of information can be replaced by technology, i.e. IoT (internet of things).
• The Bad: they are time consuming. Time is money. For example, to gather 10 executives for ineffective communications during meetings is money lost. “Time is the most perishable resource (quote from Albert Einstein)”.
• The Ugly: frequently ineffective communications in meeting do not produce tangible business results.

Lessons learnt from an eminent leadership pundit, John Maxwell, we communicate to connect. Too often we have good strategic or business intention to chair meeting to resolve problem or to make key decision, in close consultation, with the management team. But in the meeting if we cannot connect everybody to the objective of the meeting, what will be the consequence? It will ended up as a pipeline of dilemmas and paradoxes. The obvious step is to conduct another meeting in pursue of more meetings leading to the endless love for meetings. This in fact is a malady. To combat time wasted, opportunity money lost, in time consuming and unproductive meetings we must identify the root of the problem. The answer is due to ineffective communications leading to the good, the bad, and the ugly side of meetings. The meeting is only a tool. Effective communications is the mean, i.e. process.

Guiding principles for effective communications in meeting
Communications can be classified into three categories:
• Oral presentation: keep it simple, short, sweet, and sharp (7% attention)
• Discussion: See Figure 1 on the 7-steps of ensuring that the discussion is fruitful (38% attention)
• Body language: applicable to both presentation and discussion (55% attention). Gesture (hand: friendly or threatening; head: eye contact, mouth, smile; posture: straight, lean forward, lean backward). Expression (face: interested, uninterested, anxiety, fun, passion). Tone (varying degree of loudness: to show concern, congruence, conviction, passion, determination).

Planning is everything for effective communications
Effective communications is the ability to identify and connect with stakeholders at the meeting and relate to them in such a way that increases your influence with them (assuming that you are the chairperson or key member who initiated the meeting). The 10 Cs of planning for effective communications is shown in Figure 2 for pictorial comprehension. To make sure that the readers and the authors are wholly aligned, Figure 3 is a closed-loop system for effective communications in meeting. To interpret the system diagram, it is essential to begin with the output. Output or objective of the meeting is to document what have been agreed/decided or items to be followed up before the next meeting (if needed). This article introduce a tool known as the “Delta Matrix” to improve the effectiveness of communications and also efficiency of meeting to achieve higher productivity of meetings. However, before we execute any meeting do we know what to monitor and control during the meeting? If the answer is yes, then we need a “Productivity Balanced Scorecard” to measure the effectiveness of communications for each meeting. This may sound unfamiliar. However, we must concur that, “anything cannot be measured, cannot be improved or controlled”. Finally, the meeting will be conducted according to the 7-steps for effective stakeholders’ discussion.

Delta Matrix for clarity in minutes-ofmeeting (MOM)
Figure 4 is the Delta Matrix for MOM. It has 9 elements to ensure all the key items are covered during the meeting. The Delta Matrix is constructed to ensure three kinds of fit, i.e. vertically, horizontally, and diagonally. The purpose of the meeting must be clearly stated with SMART (specific-measurableassignable- realistic-timely) objectives. The scope of the meeting is to ensure sufficient time is allocated for the items to be discussed and resolved. Further, all required facts, information and/or analysis must be done and made available before the meeting. The strategy to be discussed, at the meeting, is to make decisions for the strategic, business or operations level? To be effective and efficient, all these three elements must be wholly aligned.

Once the hierarchy of the strategy level is decided, who to invite for the meeting will now be ascertained. The people who are joining the meeting must know beforehand what their contribution at the meeting is so they know what needs to be done. The type of support, i.e. resources need to be determined prior to the meeting. For example, the meeting involves senior management then the board room must be booked in advance, secretariat support, key person to stand by in the event difficult or technical questions are asked. The requirements will be more severe if it involves people travelling to the place where the meeting will be held. In this case, a 5-star hotel facilities may be the right choice which leads to budgetary approval prior to the meeting. The meeting placement of the right people in the right position is vital. For example, people will group together in their comfort zone. But, this is not effective because it depends who are the key people involve in the discussion. Hence, the people are grouped according to the agenda for decision making. For example, the meeting involves a significant amount of investments logically the CEO must be seated in the middle next to the Chief Financial Officer and the Chief Marketing Officer. Opposite to the CEO will be the Chief Technical Officer and Chief Information Officer. Whenever in doubt, check with the CEO. Each team in the senior management meeting must be organized like “manufacturing cell” consisting of cross-functional executives. Thus, the people are now seated in the right position, and with the right supporting resources or facilities can perform more productively in the meeting, applying the group technology concept.

The process of the meeting is to discuss the important and urgent items first, or the quick and easy ones? Priority must be set prior to the meeting with the key players of the meeting. Meeting can be a political agenda to show organizational weaknesses in the eyes of senior management. Some organizations describe meeting like a war zone. This is another reality. Therefore, the coordinator of the meeting must ensure that the schedule is doable and not overly ambitious to do too much in too little time. People must enjoy coming to meeting because problems can be resolved objectively and speedy. Also, undivided attention and quality time is given for decision making. It is imperative to bring in the right people at the right time so that management time is being respected instead of letting them wait for their turn to present or the discussion has nothing to do with their presence until few hours later. Mutual respect is a win-win for time management win senior management appreciation. Finally the MOM does not work if it takes more than a week to churn out the document. MOM at its best when completed and signed off within 30 minutes after the meeting where everyone remembers their commitment and conviction. Just-in-time culture of over deliver and under promise will win the confidence of senior management. If senior management is impressed with the way meetings and board meetings are being held, the coordinator will be on a fast track for career advancement. Rational is simple, most of the senior management knows the coordinator.

It is not the meeting is unproductive. It is the communications is ineffective because the participants in the meeting is not well connected to the purpose of the meeting (the why?), the scope of the meeting (the what?), the strategy of the meeting (how to achieve the purpose?). Next, the people to be invited for the meeting (the who?), the support for the meeting (what resources are needed plus the budget?), the structure of the meeting (how to organize the sitting position of the people in accordance to the items in the agenda to enable them to arrive at the right decision?). The process (the way to proceed with the discussion based on priority decided by the key people in the meeting?), the schedule (the when to do what and by who in a timely and controlled manner?), the system (the minutes-of-meeting to be signed-off at the end of the meeting – doable or undoable?).

The finale is to check diagonally to ensure that the logic is intact. Purpose, support and system must fit. Strategy, support and process must fit too. Why? If you wish to know the answer email to wholistic_

Professor KC Chan is a practice professor and strategic project management and international business consultant

Priscilla Tanjung is a final year honours degree student at Petra Christian University (Surabaya, Indonesia) specialising in International Business Management