Mon, April 22, 2024

Making Meetings Meaningful

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Argue if you must but to learn not to win “Please connect me to Mr X.” “Sorry, he is in a meeting.” “When will the meeting get over? When can I talk to him? It’s important.” “I can’t really say. In fact, he will be engaged in back-to-back meetings today.” We have been encountering this de rigueur dialogue in the corporate world ad nauseam. Infuriated and exasperated, we often wonder what meetings are all about; do meetings really matter; are meetings worth the time and effort spent; and if people are busy most of the time in meetings, then when do they really work to execute their decisions? This reaction may seem extreme and naïve. But even seasoned practitioners and scholars of business management harbour doubts about the efficacy of these formal get-togethers. Why this distrust? Their vast experience shows that the link between meetings and resolution of business issues is rather tenuous and shaky. Why is it so? We may not admit this easily but it is a fact that most managers, senior or junior, participate in business meetings only to win or push through their viewpoint. With this being the default mind-set, it becomes immaterial whether we are taking part in a meeting with company insiders or with external stake-holders. Truth be told, most of us attend meetings largely to score a point over others. We act like Roman gladiators out to joust opponents. How can we then expect such gatherings to produce win-win situations – the key ingredient for successful business outcomes? Shouldn’t we, therefore, rename meetings as battles or ambushes or skirmishes? Battles leave all fighters bruised and mauled as no single side wins all the time. Moreover, even winners get hurt. Only a magician can emerge unscathed from a confrontation. But magic, as we know, is the figment of an overpowered imagination. As an entrepreneur, promoter and hands-on business head of a diversified commercial conglomerate for over three decades I have come to appreciate the vital significance of meetings provided we attend them with the right mind-set: learning. An internal or external meeting provides us an excellent opportunity to interact with bright minds from diverse domains and spheres. A collaborative and cooperative attitude can help us extract valuable information, knowledge and wisdom from a meeting. Candid interactions are far more useful than B-school texts and weighty tomes which may not be directly associated with the challenges at hand. Meeting participants often come up with instant solutions based on their experiences in similar or allied situations. Face-to-face interaction with practising managers cannot be matched by any book. Meetings set the stage for cross-fertilisation of ideas. But you can derive the nectar from this churning of ideas only if you take part in the process with open minds. Meetings fail to serve their purpose when we join them with pre-conceived notions and pre-decided outcomes. How can minds meet and how can the ever so vital give-and-take happen when two parties arrive with their objectives cast in stone? How can mutual advantage become a reality when two parties are adamant about their respective stands and are blind to each other’s needs? Such an unbending attitude fixated solely on winning unleashes a series of debilitating and bloodletting meetings. (We see this happening all so often in courts of law where cases linger on for indefinite periods, even after the passing away of the original litigants in many instances. The same happens in geo-political crises like the currently raging Russia-Ukraine military conflict. Party politics witnesses similar tumult all around the world all the time.) Unfortunately, the argue-to-win approach often ruins intra-company meetings as well. In their bid to either impress the big boss or to overplay the contribution of their respective departments, managers run down their peers and competitors. In this mad race for hogging credit personally, the overall organisational goals go for a toss. Ties turn toxic. Experienced managers understand that they are not know-alls. Nobody is! So, to overcome their inadequacies they keep their egos on the backburner and focus on learning from all who are attending a meeting. In the process, they not only find solutions to obstacles holding them and their team back but also end up contributing to their company’s vision and mission. In meetings and all other business processes, managers need to migrate from the attitude to win to the attitude to learn. Learning is winning – the real winning. Managers who keep themselves open to learning from all directions and spheres are best equipped to face crises. They steer their departments or companies to success. Before I conclude, let us briefly dwell upon our senseless obsession with winning. In fact, we as parents, elders and seniors have always prompted and goaded children and youngsters to win at any cost, little realising that one person’s victory translates into the defeat of many others. Have we ever consciously and concertedly promoted the virtues of cooperation and collaboration among our younger generation? Yes, arguments and tough conversations are part of business and corporate meetings. But what is preferable: arguing to learn or arguing to win? I am all for the learning option. READ ALSO:
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MARCH 2024

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