Sunday, November 06, 2005

Surviving Meetings

*Recently edited for terrible typo errors. My apologies.*

What the heow kind of title is that!? I don't know how many of you have actually organised or supported stuff, but if you have you would know how inane and unavoidable meetings are. The number of meetings I've been to so far can be counted on one hand, but I notice a pattern all the time. Here's something that might be able to help.

1. High or low-level meeting?

Contrary to popular belief, how high-level the meeting is (the way I see it, anyway) is not determined by the rank of the highest-ranking member in the meeting, but by quite a few other factors as well. For instance, you should look at the highest level unit represented; even a meeting where G4 army is represented by a 2LT could be important.

Also, you should look at the number of different units that are attending. Generally, the larger the number of units attending (no matter how small each unit is), the more important the meeting. If you desperately need to skip a meeting, this is not the one.

2. Is your boss attending?

If your boss is attending, the dynamics change drastically. Let him do all the talking. Fill in for him if he asks you to, or if you deem really necessary, e.g. when he misses out an important point. If you need to interrupt regarding something less important, write it on paper and pass to him, or whisper it. Don't throw your boss any curveballs; if it is important but might shock the balls out of him, break it to him slowly. Of course, the ideal situation is to give him a full briefing before the meeting, but usually there would be no time for this. Remember; if your boss is present, your one and only job is to make him look good (you might need to take minutes too, but I can't help you there).

If your boss is not there, things are much more simple. Your job is to make sure your unit is represented, make decisions on its behalf and ensure it doesn't get screwed over (something that is almost guaranteed to happen to units that are not represented). If you (not you lah, your unit) are delegated a task, write it down and inform your boss ASAP after the meeting. If you are arrowed a task, say that you have to check with your boss (unless you are authorised to make a decision on the matter, then up to you lor). If you are asked for results/reports, submit them, or inform them when it will be submitted. Never push the responsibility away; you are representing your unit, and you are in no way to make it look bad. If its something that should be resolved within your unit, just nod your head and say it will be done. Settle it behind the scenes. Don't wash your dirty linen in public. Bitch about your colleagues over lunch, not at the meeting.

3. Routine or adhoc?

If it is a routine meeting, you probably should have advance notice. Prepare the data you need, present it at the meeting, bring up any AOB (any other business) you need to settle, end of meeting. Don't go off-track unless requested to by the chairman; the metting happens every month (usually), and people have work to do. If it is important, bring it up to the relevant people after the meeting, not on meeting time.

If it is an adhoc meeting, do your best to find out what the agenda for the meeting would be. If there is no clue whatsoever, try to get a list of attendees; their units and appointments would give you a good idea of what to expect. Also be sure to check out who is chairing the meeting, this would decide how important the meeting is.

Once done, prepare whatever data you can scrape together, then go with a notepad and pen. The data most likely would be insufficient, but at least it makes you look prepared. Lots of stuff will be discussed, take down the pertinent points. They will be published in the minutes, but your boss will appreciate you for giving advance notice (if you're attending, it's most likely on his behalf, right?).

When the meeting/discussion drops to a lull, quietly make conversation with the dudes on your left and right (you did make sure to sit beside people you know, or need to know, right?), bitch about the slow progress and common problems both of you face and whatever else there is to bitch about - nobody hates bitching (NOTE: If that person is a good friend of the Chairman or the person presenting, make sure you say something nice, don't be a dolt. This is for you to guage based on your judgment. Take very cautious steps whenever you talk about other people behind their backs. You have been warned). Networking helps immensely, even if it's just for another year-and-a-half. Consider it practice for the working world.

4. Agenda?

You have to know what will be discussed at the meeting, or you're just wasting your time. It is very tempting to avoid work by maintaining ignorance, but remember boys, knowledge is power. Keeping astute about happenings will save your ass one of these days. If you're really lucky, you might even save your boss' ass, and get a couple days off in return if he is slack enough. Repeat after me, saving your boss' ass is never a Bad Thing (TM).

It is advisable to have a To Do list drafted up after each meeting; it helps you keep track of the tasks arrowed delegated to you, which ones have been completed and which ones are in progress. This makes things easier at the meeting; just update them lor.

You should also meet your boss and fellow department colleagues shortly before the meeting to see if there is any business they want brought up at the meeting; if it is important enough they would attend personally, but sometimes things do crop up. Trust me, they would appreciate it.

Remember to update the relevant personnel on the meeting points ASAP after the meeting, don't keep them in the lurch until the last hour. It sucks to be the bringer of bad news, but it sucks even more to be the bringer of super-last-minute bad news.

5. AOB

It often happens that problems in your unit are beyond your control, and the solution you have in mind needs vetting by a higher authority. But keep in mind that your problem is not everyone else's problem (if it were, it would be in the agenda), so keep it distilled. No-one likes falling out of a meeting at 1830. Just note these points:

Gather data beforehand. After you bring up the problem, the next thing they would do is ask for numbers. Under-estab? How many guys you have? How many you supposed to have? Insufficient funds? How much you have, how much you need? Other problems? Show emails transpired, when was it sent? Any action taken? Don't go unprepared - you'd just be laughed at and told, "show me the stuff next meeting".

Be sure it is a real and unusual problem. Don't be laughed at for asking about routine problems. In other words, make sure you check with the SMEs (subject matter expert) in the respective formations and schools, before asking the committee. Dont' get laughed at for not knowing how to solve basic problems. When they ask you if you have checked with [insert Rank/Name of relevant SME], be sure to have a satisfactory reply ready.

Be clear about what you want. More importantly, want something. Don't just throw your problem to the committee and wash your hands off the matter. It is fine to suggest a solution from your point of view, then ask the rest what they think of the issue. Chances are, if enough units are affected by the same problem, it would be a bulleted point in next meeting's agenda. They would probably thank you for bringing it up (though this is not guaranteed due to political reasons).

Propose your solution for approval. If you're lucky, other members will discuss this (hopefully not over the next hour!), make refinements to your plan, and it gets approved. Maybe not immediately, but by the next meeting, or after that.

6. After the meeting

You did take down important points of information, right? Disseminate to the relevant personnel, preferably via email, and inform them whether the items are FYI (for your info), FYA (for your action) or FYNA (for your necessary action). Use more acronyms if it is your unit's SOP. The 3F tagging is to make thigns more convenient for others, and to save your ass (I did tell you it's FYNA, whaat).

You also did draft a To Do list, right? Not just for yourself; for your unit, dude. Write the task down, put the name/department responsible for the action to be taken, then put a checkbox next to it. Remember to include the dissemination of meeting points as a To Do as well. This is to remind you, and to save your ass at the next meeting (if you happen not to be the unit rep for the next one - read on for elaboration). Check back with your unit regularly (weekly is good) to see if the items are completed yet. If it is a multi-stage item, pen down the item's progress in a side note. Of course, tick your own checkbox once the points have been disseminated.

Now comes the important part: Check who is the next rep for the unit at the next meeting. If it is you, then things are simpler; just bring your Checklist along. If not, find out who the bugger is, and give him the list about 1-0.5 weeks in advance (not too early, or he can still shirk responsibility to you). Give him a quick briefing on the situation, the checklist will give him the details he needs. It is now his responsibility to update the list. You did remember to tick your checkbox, right? If not, when the chairman asks why so-and-so personnel was not informed, you'd wish you had remembered to wear your steel bum-plate.


How did I manage to glean so much from just 4 meetings? Just thank your lucky stars you're not a logistics 2LT. Oh, you are? Welcome to the family, dude, heheheh.


polygon said...

wow.. thats a very good post sia.. if i dint know better.. you sound more like a lao jiao den an nsf..

crackhead said...

everyone in logistic side are lao jiao, don't u know? its quite good actually. on some days i just laze around in my store doing nothing.

Kev said...

Very detailed "war" plan I must say.Logistics meetings are a pain, and yet they are vital.