I Googled a guide to what makes meetings work and found this excellent list of ingredients prepared by The University of La Verne, a private research university in California.
The meeting I attended today was an example of what happens when practically all these guidelines are disregarded .
It followed the same pattern as countless others I have experienced since I started work at the University of Bologna 15 years ago.
These are some of the main defects of todays encounter which was (I think!) about planning a preparation courses and tests for primary school English language teachers:
- There was no fixed agenda – attendees were simply officially summoned by email.
- The man who chaired the meeting arrived 25 minutes late without making any apologies.
- He shook hands (limply) with all eight of the attendees but didn’t introduce himself or ask for our names ( I hadn’t met him before and still don’t know his name!).
- Mr X spoke for about half an hour without any statements such as “The purpose of this meeting is…..” OR “What I wanted to discuss is….”.
- He rambled on vaguely about budgeting and the broad guidelines for evaluating the quality of educators.
- The discussion was then opened up for us to add comments on an ad-hoc basis i.e. there were no direct questions or structure to these contributions.
- In this muddled way some vague decisions got made but many important issues, such as funding the project, were not satisfactorily resolved.
- The meeting fizzled out without any closing statement or sense of closure.
There was no bad feeling so the Laverne advice about protecting individuals from personal attack is not applicable but I feel like circulating the following four items of meeting etiquette in the vain hope that someone somewhere is listening:
1. There must be a common focus on content.
2. There must be a common focus on process.
3. Someone must be responsible for maintaining an open and balanced conversational flow.
4. For the duration of the meeting everyone’s role must be clearly defined and agreed upon.