What the flag referendum and meetings have in common.

Posted On: October 8th, 2015 By Helen Main No Comments »


What the Flag Referendum and Meetings Have in Common
(and how to fix this)

Over the past six months, I’ve been following the NZ flag referendum. Between white peak scandal, the silver fern looking like our rugby logo and koru designs with the removal of the union jack and it’s heritage, it’s been a bit of a messy business.

While watching the topic be discussed, analysed and speculated about by many journalists, sportspeople and politicians, it occurred to me that this referendum was just like one, giant business meeting.


The decision over the new flag could have been made by gathering a select group of people with relevant expertise, picking their brains and eventually electing one person to design the flag. (Here’s looking at you, Canada!). The decision to hold a two-part referendum, with public contribution throughout – from design ideas through to final selection – has drawn out the process over 12 months. I feel like I’m sitting in the longest meeting ever!
As many of you have noticed by now, business meetings are not always productive. With half your team scrolling through their phones, someone trying to derail the conversation, while ‘that guy’ keeps trying to talk over everyone – sometimes you might be wondering if you would get more done if you just made decisions alone.


While we can’t do much about the Flag Referendum, we can certainly take a look at our own businesses and how we run our meetings, to ensure maximum result from minimum time in the boardroom. Meetings are meant to improve productivity, teamwork and employee morale, but frequently the outcome of many meetings is entirely opposite! According to this infographic, 91% of employees have daydreamed during meetings, and 39% of them have used meetings to catch up on some sleep! Not very productive at all.

If any of these descriptions sound all too familiar, don’t worry, we have some useful tips to help decrease time spent in meetings and increase the productivity of the meetings themselves.

You hold weekly ‘catch-up meetings’… with the whole team

You (rightly) believe that a good business needs a good team. You schedule a weekly meeting with everyone, for a chance to catch up on what other departments are doing and talk about future plans. Unfortunately, there always seems to be one or two people who dominate the discussion time and employees are left feeling ignored or board, while the Chatty Charlies take the floor.

Meetings are great for making sure everyone is on the same page, but routinely dragging your entire team into the boardroom not only stops work in its tracks, but it can also further disengage your employees.

You rely on meetings to make decisions

You firmly believe your democratic decision-making process will encourage employees to engage with your business more. Meetings are spent in heated discussion. One marketer thinks the company should be focusing on improving its branding, someone in sales thinks that a better CRM system would increase profits; and your website development team are trying to push forward a new ‘edgy’ layout.
You leave the meeting, frustrated, with more problems than you went in with; no one feels they have been given the consideration they deserve either.

You have no agenda

You pick the topic of discussion and go from there. You might be too busy to plan the meeting breakdown, or you may have heard that too much planning will stamp out creativity. During meetings, you end up focusing most of the time on something that is relatively minor, and since no one knew how the meeting was going to run, they are unprepared and have nothing to contribute.

You try to make meetings appealing, in all the wrong ways

You remember sitting in dull meetings watching the clock tick by, so you try to engage employees by making them enjoyable. You provide snacks from local cafes or bakeries; you use powerpoint presentations and videos to keep them entertained, you try to keep them [meetings] informal and friendly. Unfortunately, this results in employees forgetting there’s a meeting going on at all, chatting to their friends, focusing on their baked treats and sending smug snapchats to their friends about how cool their meetings are. Nothing gets done and in the end, you simply provided your staff with an extra long tea break.

You don’t encourage discussion

You believe that letting your employees dominate the meeting won’t get anything done. You want meetings to be productive, so you plan your speech, and write a detailed agenda down to the last minute – leaving 10 minutes at the end where employees are invited to contribute. You notice employees are occasionally absent from these meetings, and you try to block out the whispering and texting that goes on while you talk. Employees leave feeling unimportant and unheard, and wonder why you didn’t just write them all an email instead.

You schedule hour long blocks for meetings.

The very sound of that makes me groan.
You want everyone to have a chance to contribute, so you plan out a 60-minute meeting so that there is plenty of time for everyone. After about 20-30 minutes, you notice phones starting to come out, eyes glazing over and the conversation is being carried predominantly by you and one or two others. You wonder why your other employees aren’t as engaged, and you start to randomly call on individuals to contribute, leaving everyone feeling uncomfortable and bored.

*      *      *


If these point to you, and you’re feeling a bit discouraged, wondering how you might fix your productivity issues, have no fear! There are steps you can take that will improve the outcome of your meetings and leave employees feeling motivated and engaged.
For more productive meetings, read on!

Have an Agenda

Trying to get to an unknown destination without a map will ultimately result in arguments, backtracking and hours wasted. The same can be said for running a meeting without an agenda. Plan not just your topic, but how long you need to speak for, what you want others to contribute and when the meeting will be wound up. This agenda allows you to control the direction of the meeting and keeps it from wandering off into Unproductivity’ Land!

Avoid ‘Decision Making’ meetings

Your employees will all have opinions, but not all of them are equipped with the knowledge needed to make business decisions. If you invite your team to all contribute their opinions, you will end up with an argument that will swing back and forth for the length of the meeting. Instead, schedule decision-making time with key employers – usually management – and use meeting time to fine tune and support these decisions.

Ditto ‘Informational’ Meetings

Don’t bother calling a meeting to give an information presentation. Demanding people take time out of their busy working hours to simply sit and listen to you talk will decrease motivation and morale. Instead, put all crucial information in an email, and hold a brief ‘Q&A’ style meeting afterwards.

Inform your Participants

There’s nothing worse than holding a meeting and finding out half the participants have arrived unprepared. Once you have an agenda, email it to all relevant staff and ask them to take a few minutes to read over it. This way, they have a chance to process the information and think about anything they may be able to contribute, or questions they want to ask.

KISS – Keep it Short and Sweet

Long meetings are less productive than short ones. Adult attention spans have decreased over recent years, and even with participation from employees meetings that last an hour will have lost the majority of the people present long before the hour is up. Stick to 15 minute meetings, or 30 at the most, and be strict. This will encourage staff to prioritise what they say during this time and avoid disengagement.

Ban Phones/Tablets/Laptops

Requesting phones and other electronic devices be turned off might be met with some level of anxiety from your newer, hyperconnected employees. Remind them it’s only 15-minutes, and you want this meeting to be brief and productive. The other benefit of this is that physically writing down your notes (rather than taking shots of slides or recording the meeting) helps people to remember what was talked about at a later date.

No Spectators Please

Many employees will see meeting time as a chance to tune out. They figure that if anything is really important, they’ll find out later, and the only reason they turn up is for the snacks provided at your expense! To combat this, avoid bribing employees to attend by offering food in the first place, and practice involving everyone in the meeting. If someone repeatedly turns up without contributing, you can quietly exclude them from further meetings.







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