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Meetings should never last more than an hour

I am not a great lover of meetings – any meetings. I am sure that this comes from my days as a teacher when endless staff meetings were the order of the day.

I remember hours spent discussing sports days, Christmas parties and the colour of paint for classrooms, when I would much rather have been marking pupils’ books and planning lessons for the next busy day.

This is not to say that sports days and Christmas parties were unimportant, they were, but most issues could have been dealt with efficiently in minutes rather than the three hours often wasted after a busy school day, when most good teachers are exhausted.

It was after reading an article in an American management journal, lovingly produced for the American ‘How to be a manager in three easy lessons’ market, that I picked up a valuable nugget of advice that was to guide my future views and actions towards meetings.

The theory was that no meeting should last for more than one hour; after all, anything that couldn’t be dealt with within one hour was not important enough to discuss anyway.

It was true, and I resolved that in my future career as a head teacher, and later as a school inspector, I would follow this guidance whenever possible.

This resolute approach to chairing meetings, not surprisingly, met with some initial resistance. The usual practice of staff drifting in late to meetings, making a cup of coffee, chatting about the day, and complaining about parents and children had to come to an abrupt end.

After all, discussions of this kind could continue after our meeting, but never before. My colleagues quickly learned to focus upon a pre-prepared and manageable agenda, which allowed for succinct discussion and to focus upon only what was important.

Meetings took place under a strict one-hour rule, agenda items were routinely and efficiently dealt with, leaving time to focus upon what was really important, teaching and learning, as well as going home at a reasonable time. Endless discussions about Christmas parties and sports days became a thing of the past.

All this had to come to an abrupt end when I moved to Spain, where community meetings take place to deal with issues that may affect the residents of an apartment block or community area.

In theory, it is a good and democratic idea, but once again, I was faced with endless meetings called to resolve such issues as lifts not working, the electric door to the communal garage not opening, and the eccentricity of the electricity supply.

Meetings scheduled to start at 7.30pm eventually began at 8.30pm, with participants coming and going, babies crying, as well as texting and answering mobile phones during the meeting.

The lack of an agenda, and roaming from one subject to another, as well as the whole procedure taking place in machine gun Spanish, meant that I eventually left the meetings, four hours later, exhausted, bewildered and very angry.

Last night we attended a village meeting to discuss a number of issues. We felt it was important to show our faces and share concern about the issues to be discussed; after all, such meetings are an important part of local democracy.

Eventually, the meeting started; there were several angry monologues from local worthies, together with many interruptions and much shouting from a number of residents.

After one hour we slipped away quietly to the bar next door to enjoy a pizza and a few drinks, whilst the meeting continued into the early hours of the morning. I am so pleased that I read that article in the American management journal; it has given me many hours of my life back.

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: www.barriemahoney.com and www.thecanaryislander.com or read his book, ‘Expat Voice’ (ISBN: 9780992767174). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle, iBooks and Google Play editions.

iPhone/iPad and Android Apps: ExpatInfo, CanaryIsle and CanaryGay now available.

© Barrie Mahoney

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