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Manage meetings

How to . . .

Hands up if you spend what seems like hours in an endless succession of interminable meetings?

Whether or not you would rather be doing what you're actually paid to do - ie getting on with your job - there's no denying that too many of us spend too long in meetings. We've all been there and most of us have at some time bemoaned the waste of time and money represented by unnecessary or mismanaged meetings. So why do we still have them?

The fact that so many construction industry people work on a fee basis may in some way prevent unnecessary meetings, says Patrick Forsyth, author of the Institute of Personnel Development's book Making meetings work. On the other hand, he warns, it can mean that important issues are skimmed over, while client commitments mean key individuals often miss important meetings.

'Meetings are powerful things, ' says Forsyth, 'and with the right preparation they can and do work.' And love 'em or hate 'em, few of us can imagine industry functioning without them.

The problem, Forsyth insists, is the proliferation of unnecessary meetings.

'I would ban any meeting that has a period of time as its title - the 'weekly' or 'monthly' meeting, ' he asserts. The key thing, he says, is to have objectives, preferably at least two, 'for example, we really want to nail down cost reductions, and to do so in five months'.

As well as a clear agenda, meetings should have a starting and finishing time, with individual items alloted a time slot in advance, says Cristina Stuart, managing director of communications training company Speak First: 'The working environment is far more informal these days with ideas exchanged more openly. Yet three or four people in an office downing tools to talk actually constitutes a meeting and should be treated thus.' In these cases, she adds, several people are not working, so a meeting with a proper agenda would be a better option.

Both she and Forsyth agree that the success of a meeting depends very much on its leader: 'People coming and going throughout the course of a meeting is annoying for everyone; a good chair will insist that everyone turns up on time, as well as making sure they are prepared to address issues on the agenda, ' says Forsyth, and he warns:

'Beware the chair creating a skew by saying things like: 'I've had this splendid idea, what do we all think?' - where everyone is forced to agree.'

Some people need a skilled leader in order to provide them with an opportunity to put across any points they might have, says Stuart. She urges everyone to be 'proactive' rather than waiting to be asked for a contribution. 'Be assertive - say that you've a point to make, ' she adds. And if you're interrupted mid-flow, try using stock phrases like 'I haven't finished my point, can I come to you in a moment, ' or 'bear with me, I'm coming to that'. But this approach does require some tact, Stuart warns, especially if you're dealing with a superior.

Meetings may be the chance to impress superiors without having to say anything. Too often junior staff just sit there looking bored, says Stuart. 'Look at the person who is speaking and nod when you agree with them, it makes a much better, if not verbal, impression.'

Key points

With the right preparation, meetings can and do work

Make sure that your meeting has an objective

Establish start and finish times, and stick to them

Don't just sit there looking bored

Make a good impression by nodding in agreement

Cristina Stuart, SpeakEasy tel: (020) 8446 0797

Patrick Forsyth tel: (01621) 859300

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