Thursday, November 26, 2009

Running An Internal Meeting

Most public servants have to attend numerous meetings that only involve members of their own Division, Branch or Section. It is essential to have as many of these meetings as possible so that the business of government can run suitably slowly. There will usually be at least one of each of these meetings in every month; however, experienced public servants can usually schedule at least two section meetings each month, if not weekly section meetings. The longer these meetings can go for, the better, as this takes people away from communications with the outside world and gives them less time to work on their projects.

Such meetings are superficially for the purpose of making sure that people know what is going within the Division, Section or Branch. This is potentially dangerous if taken seriously, as you really don’t want people to know what you are, or are not, working on. However, a good public servant can use them achieve exactly the opposite. When you do have to speak, make sure your skills are such that you can talk for at least ten minutes without telling anyone anything they don’t already know. If you are a beginner and not confident in your ability in this area, it is best just to say that everything is on track. Then you can sit back and watch the masters work their magic. If these meetings are run well, they can last for up to half a day and end being an endurance test for all involved. Below are some tips to help extend the life of these meetings as much as possible.

A good internal meeting should be dreaded by everyone involved who does not see it as an opportunity for procrastination and obstruction. Those sincere and proactive government employees who feel an urge to ‘make things happen’ need to be ground down and reduced quivering messes as soon as possible.

Let everybody have a say

There are loads of people in government, and the corporate world, who love the sound of their own voice and who will be happy to crap on to anyone who will listen. It is important to let these people have an agenda item, as this will fill everyone else with dread even before the meeting has begun. In addition to this, there are large numbers of extremely insecure people who feel that when they have the chance to speak about their project, they need to explain everything that has happened, will happened, and is likely to happen. And I mean everything. These people could test the patience of the Dalai Lama. When this happens every month, it turns a meeting into a sort of ‘show and tell’ session, similar to what used to happen when you were at primary school.

Organise a presentation

Having an external person coming in to give a presentation at the end of the meeting will add to the endurance required to successfully survive an internal meeting. Find an ‘expert’ in a field (preferably a boffin) who wants to come and talk about their project. This is apparently an attempt to broaden the knowledge of those present; however, what it really does is raise levels of boredom to almost painful levels as the expert gets into the practical details of their project. They do their best to explain the mysteries of their research to people who have no interest, don’t give a shit, and basically, would rather subject themselves to physical torture rather than listen to the drivel that is occurring.

Ask a question that you know will result in a long and confusing response

Where, despite your efforts, it appears that a meeting is running too smoothly, you should have some back-up plans ready. One of the best ones of these is to have some questions prepared for those people you know like to hear the sound of their own voice., or are insecure enough not to be satisfied until they have told you everything they think you might, possibly, want to know. This takes the responsibility of extending the meeting away from you, and on to the responder. If you do this before it is your turn to speak you can take valuable time up, increase people’s levels of boredom, and so further reduce the amount of attention they are likely to pay to your own long and rambling explanation of the status of your projects.

Spread confusion

This is something that you will be able to do with more effectiveness, the higher up the ladder you reach within government. For instance, if you have become a Branch Manager you will be able to use branch meetings to hold the floor, using your time and influence to talk about business planning matters, accommodation issues, and bore people with what you heard at the Divisional Manager’s Meeting. This is where the Director telling you what happened at the Corporate Executive Meeting earlier on that week, in turn, bored you. Most of what you have to say will be of very little relevance to most of the staff and will be repetition for your Section Manager’s, who you have already met with. Talking about the problems being wrestled with by senior management will also give you the opportunity to let incomplete information out that can then be taken out of context, providing fodder for all the Drama Queens, who can then go out and start their campaigns to spread tension and innuendo.

Chair the meeting

Where possible, see if you can have a go at chairing meetings. This puts you in control of the agenda and timelines, and can let you practice your procrastination and obstruction methods on internal employees before you take them out to use on external clients. A good Chair will be able to give the most boring and tedious people the longest opportunity to speak, and while this can be a trial for the Chair, it is essential practice for when you get to positions of seniority. It also gives you the chance to see how long you can make the tortuous meeting last (keep a record and try to beat it the next time you take charge). One last point is that you can ensure that those annoying and enthusiastic staff members that cause so much trouble for everyone else by ignoring the five paradigms, all have an agenda item and therefore have to come along. You will be able to take great joy from the grimaces and tortured looks on their faces as they contemplate the next couple of hours of unmitigated boredom.

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