Giving our full attention in meetings and dealing with our craving to multitask

multitasking3

In a recent post, I discussed how protocols are so often difficult to achieve between adults, yet at the same time we know that by following them they would lead to more productive relationships and a better operating school team. In recent weeks I have found some success in meetings both with large and small groups.

By kindly and respectfully asking colleagues to put their laptops away as the meeting does not require them, lead to a very high degree of compliance and without a doubt greater focus on the items or discussion at hand. A similar request was made of colleagues regarding cell phones being turned off or to silent was, again, respectfully adhered to.

While I am aware that the compliance with such a request can be attributed by one’s relationship with their colleagues, we certainly should not be afraid to make such requests from time to time and not fear laying down some ground rules or setting some simple agreements for a meeting or workshop. There are times for using technology and times where we should refrain. The fact of the matter is that if we leave the decision up to the adults in the room, not everyone will make the right choice and the meeting, its discussion and information exchange suffers as a consequence.

It is important to mention at this point that I am not recommending that meeting participants abstain from using technology in meetings, Period. We must consider the tensions that exist between multitasking and productive meetings.

This article from the Huffington Post provides a great infographic on the costs that (maybe) associated with multitasking. Paolo Cardini in his short TED talk advocates that we “Forget multitasking, try monotasking.”

There are, however, times whereby we need to allow for the use of technology in a meeting and for people to ‘tune-in’ depending on the importance and relevance of the item. Most of us have been to a meeting that is either boring, not relevant or poorly organised. Subsequently, we can feel as though we have the right to ‘switch-off’ to focus on our own agenda, which maybe checking your inbox. Much of this is driven by our feeling of being time poor leading to our own agenda being more important than the next person’s. To a certain extent, we may cause this problem ourselves and, therefore, I believe that we are obliged to give thought to our own efficacy. On the other hand, we should question that if we are present in a meeting and 90% of the agenda has no relevance to us whatsoever, is our time being wasted if we do not have the opportunity tend to other pressing needs during the meeting?

Ultimately, it comes down to addressing this tension and achieveing two crucial goals during a meeting for it to be successful and value the people present:

  1. Ensuring that all the people needed attend to a particular item on a meeting agenda are actively engaged with it – not distracted by anything else. There is a distinct difference between being present and being present.
  2. Ensuring that when items are not relevant to certain participants, they do not lose precious time and productivity.

 

Solution:

The next time you have a meeting try creating an agenda with specific times, so that people can come and go from the meeting as needed. The challenge of this approach is sticking to the schedule. The downside could be that if someone is required several times, then entering and leaving the meeting frequently may not be that productive, unless all their items are scheduled together; easier said than done.

If the above may not reap rewards, try this:

Set up an agenda that lists the name of those people required to actively discuss each individual item. Establish an essential agreement that during the meeting that those people not needed for a specific item can attend to other tasks on their laptop during that time. A smaller table away from the main meeting table could be set up to allow those participants a separate space to continue their work, which can act as a visual cue for who should be engaged with the current item and who is exempt.

By attempting this simple strategy, I firmly believe that those presenting the various agenda items will feel more respected in terms of the importance of the business to be discussed with an attentive audience. In a similar vein, those present will feel that their precious time is also valued.

A win-win and less frustration for all concerned, so give it a go!

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