Meetings – Minutes Taken and Hours Lost

The Monday morning meeting. A place where tedium rules and dreams go to die. Your co-workers shuffle in, coffee cups firmly gripped, bracing for the one way conversation that is about to take place.

But it isn’t just the team leaders fault; everyone is complicit. The request for input or questions is greeted with a table full of blank stares. Communication is a two way street and everyone has a responsibility to make that work.

On-board an offshore vessel we conduct a meeting at the change of watch, at 1130 and 2330 every day. This is typically called a Safety Meeting, Pre-Tower Meeting, or Tool Box Talk. Everybody who is going on shift gathers and the plan for the coming shift is reviewed. Work permits are assigned, lessons learned are discussed, and safety related issues are brought to the fore front.

The risk with this meeting, especially on an extended job where the same task has been ongoing for weeks, is that the repetitiveness begins to eat away at people. Supervisors have no fresh input so end up repeating what the last person said, and the workers use the forum to gripe. Then just as you think it’s done, the Safety Officer stands up to tell adults how to properly walk when holding a coffee cup.

These meetings can go another direction though. The very best I’ve ever seen were high energy, collaborative, informative, and no longer than necessary. They reminded me of a football locker room at half time, complete with jumping around.

If it’s a waste of time, why do we keep doing it?

The reason for hosting meetings of any sort is to exchange knowledge and ideas, and to ensure that the companies vision is being carried out, as measured by goals achieved. The issues arise when something is missing, either through the leaders inability to properly control the meeting or by the attendees poor attitude. Often a bit of both.

The Linchpin

Mayor Rudy Giuliani is best known for turning New York city around in the 90’s. During his tenure as Mayor the crime rate was drastically reduced, jobs were created, and the City once again became a world class destination. His methods also allowed for a rapid and effective emergency response following the terrible acts on September 11th, 2001.

One of the linchpins of his success was the morning meetings that he famously implemented when he took office. First thing in the morning he would meet with all of his top staff, who were in charge of running the cities various departments – police, fire, social work, etc. But rather than become an episode in one way communication, each member was expected to share the status of their departments, or areas.

In this way problems could be identified and action plans developed. If a problem was reported in some area on Monday, the Mayor expected answers on Tuesday. The participation of all members was ensured, as everybody involved were held accountable for their departments. When the meeting was over, each department head would then go and spread the contents of the meeting to their staff, as they saw fit.

The right people in the right place

If your meetings are being met with plenty of blank stares and uncomfortable silences, consider that you may not have the right people attending. Rather than bring the whole team in to every discussion try instead to have each of the section leaders present, then have them spread the message through their organizations.

And hold them accountable for it.

A premise of *Clear Communication is that people need to be kept informed. Does everybody onboard a ship need to know what is occurring with the project?  Of course.  Do they all need to be told at the same time.  No.  Especially with very large crews.

Not keeping the right people informed is the biggest cause of miscommunication. If you don’t share your expectations how do you expect them to be carried out?

By clearly stating your expectations to a select number of people your message is sure to be properly shared.

Especially if those same people are held accountable for it’s delivery.

How do you feel about meetings? Key to success or waste of time?

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2 thoughts on “Meetings – Minutes Taken and Hours Lost

  1. Sean has put in yet another well articulated article in his series of articles on Clear Communications. Whereas the topic is something we experience on board (even in offices ashore) every day, it was humorously worded with easy language susceptible to even a layman.

    It is true that meetings such as TBT or morning meetings do become such a routine and monotonous events, particularly when the ongoing project is with hardly any change in location, people working with or even environment. Complacency sets in when the agenda becomes repetitive. I have come across someone with authority who chairs such a meeting on board will keep on reminding about pinch points in every meetings. There are much more serious issues on board to deal with, particularly which affect Safety, but for that person (happens to be from the fair sex), pinch point takes priority over delay in crew change or even making too many PA announcements to summon someone without seriously considering the fact that it disturbs the off duty personnel taking rest. In this regard, I would advise all the Masters offshore, to insist that the PA is to be used for communicating a message to all on board, particularly those of emergency situations. PA is not to be used to replace an errand running. Each crew has an allotted bed/cabin and if not there, he can easily be found at the Cinema / Recreation room, Mess or Smoke Room, if not on upper decks. Announcements can easily be made to selected decks / locations.

    Report on jobs carried out, shortcomings if any and safety issues experienced during the previous day can be discussed. The Work Supdt can give a brief on the jobs planned for the day, procedures to be followed and safety issues likely to be encountered. Other participants / departments can highlight issues concerning them or any other concerns on whatever projected till then. Like this, the meeting can be made fruitful, by bringing out issues that need not have been already identified by the Supdt. Such meetings are also the forum where it is decided as to what the boss wants to implement or in other words, what he likes or dislikes.

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