Meetings -- you can't live with 'em and you can't live without 'em.
That's the dilemma facing many corporate managers and professionals in every field: Although fundamental to taking care of business, more often than not meetings are considered a waste of time.
A recent survey of 100 company executives revealed that more than one-third of the average management employe's workday is consumed by meetings. Those polled by Goodrich & Sherwood Co., a New York human resources consulting firm, frequently identified meetings as battlegrounds, where egos take priority over the business at hand.
But Robert Maidment, a professor of education administration at the College of William and Mary, says battling egos and other disruptions of meetings aren't the culprits -- the meetings themselves are.
"I endure many insufferable ones," says Maidment, moaning that he averages 10 to 12 meetings a week. "But as Faulkner said, 'Man must not only endure, he must prevail.' " How?
To find the answer, Maidment brainstormed with colleagues and graduate students -- all "professional meeting attenders" and all victims of meeting-itus. The result: a booklet titled "Meetings! Accomplishing More With Better and Fewer," published this year by the Reston-based National Association of Secondary Principals.
"Many middle managers in America spend inordinate amounts of time moving from one meeting setting to another," says Maidment. "But in training these administrators and managers, very little attention, beyond some group dynamics, is given to how to run a meeting well."
Complicating the problem, says Maidment, is that many of them wouldn't know a good meeting if they saw one. That makes knowing how to run one all the more difficult. "The best meetings are well-planned, crisp, a lot of honest dialogue, some specific assignments that are clear and concise, and some form of monitoring the progress," Maidment explains, adding that fewer meetings and structured agendas distributed in advance should be givens.
Maidment's booklet identifies 40 rules for making meetings more effective -- strategies on "how to hate meetings less." Among them:
*Meet only when you must. Avoid the "if it's Tuesday, we must be having a meeting" syndrome. And make the meetings short.
*Make a priority list of issues to be discussed. Put your most important agenda items up front.
*Avoid the "nothing-happened" meeting. People are disappointed when issues aren't resolved.
*Start on time. The message if you don't: This meeting isn't important and neither are you. "The meter is running for all of us," says Maidment. "Don't reward latecomers by waiting for them. And don't apologize for starting without them."
*Agree in advance on ground rules. Are you operating by consensus, some kind of parliamentary order or a dictatorship? Everyone needs to know from the outset.
*Plan a gap in the agenda. Leave time and space for ideas, one-shot items and problems.
*Keep presentations short. Eliminate rambling reports. Provide participants with detailed information ahead of time, and don't repeat it at the meeting.
*Avoid tangents. Hidden agendas of participants can sidetrack an entire meeting. Confront that behavior as "going off on a tangent" and redirect the meeting. Humor can help.
*Record what you accomplish. You usually don't need laborious minutes every time you meet, but you do want to keep track of actions taken.
*Cooperative planning and review. Use key associates to build an agenda for each meeting and for occasional post-meeting conferences to review what can be improved. That builds a sense of involvement and commitment.
*Retire useless practices. "We have some rituals," says Maidment, "such as starting every meeting by reviewing the minutes of a previous one that someone learned in junior high. You may not need to do this."
*Tell participants what is expected of them by the next meeting -- and hold them to it. Dual Career Conflicts
Half-day workshops for couples balancing dual careers and family life will be offered Oct. 5 in Annandale by Clinical Consultants Inc. Topics to be discussed: conflict resolution, trade-offs and walking the tightrope between personal and professional demands. The morning session is for couples with children; the afternoon for those without. Free. Limited registration. (703) 642-3434. Part-Timers ------------------
If only you could work three days a week? The part-time career is the focus of an information fair sponsored by the Association of Part-Time Professionals Oct. 9 at the Flow General Building in McLean. The three-hour session costs $5 and will include workshops with successful part-timers and employers of part-time professionals. (703) 734-7975. Landing Federal Jobs
Shelly Ritornato and George Rawson, authors of the 1985 Guide to Federal Job Hunting, will give tips on getting a job in the federal bureaucracy Oct. 15. The $15 session is sponsored by the continuing education company First Class Inc. and will be held at 1522 Connecticut Ave. NW. (202) 797-5102.