Colonel Mahaveer Singh was the Commanding Officer (CO) under whose guidance I spent my five years as a young officer. He was a real father figure who believed that the Regiment was his family and insisted on all officers getting together for tea at 10:30 AM. All officers, especially the young officers, really enjoyed these meetings as the first five to ten minutes was official stuff where in the CO gave out a few directions and it was for us to act on them and execute them. The next 20 to 30 minutes used to be “story telling” time and we all could narrate anything and everything and all officers would listen and participate in the discussion. This instilled a lot of confidence in all the young officers and they all are doing well today. Colonel Rajan Anand (now a retired Brigadier) and Colonel PK Ramachandran (now a retired Major General) were two COs who never ever held a conference or meeting. They gave their directions on the run and everybody executed them and for sure executed them really well.
All three of the above mentioned COs never ever seemed to supervise our work and believed in all of us and in delegation. They had trust in us and hence we always went an extra mile to ensure that the results were the best. The performance of the unit in all spheres spoke for itself and each and everyone, to the last soldier, took pride in being from a great Regiment and put in that extra effort to keep the Regimental flag flying high.
I have had my share of pathetic experiences also which led me to ensure that I never held a conference or meeting during the command of the Regiment, mainly because I hated them. Based on the lessons I had learnt from the above three COs, I put into practice the ethos of trust in all my subordinates and also provide them enough elbow space to execute the task with minimum directions. The performance of the Regiment at that time was there for everyone to see and the men were confident of what they did.
Why do I hate conferences / meetings?
During a short stint with our Regiment, I was called in for a conference regarding a task. Normally every soldier would get into their drills and procedures, while the officers get their briefings and directions from the CO. This meeting was attended by nearly all up to the Havildars (Sergeants) and the CO’s office was overflowing and also nauseating. The meeting went on for two hours, with nothing new other than a few finger pointing by the CO and on returning to where the men were, I found no activity at all.
On inquiry I found that all the soldiers generally have their lunch and sleep off the moment this CO called for a conference as they knew how to make full use of this valuable “dead-time”. The soldiers would never do anything much even after the conference as they were pretty sure that this CO would make them re-do or change what they did. So they felt “why waste effort and time”. A well oiled Regiment was now waiting for the CO for everything and the soldiers felt most miserable about it as they were not used to such ridiculing and lack of trust ever before. When I returned to the unit after two years, luckily the new CO had turned the clock back and I found the soldiers happier and proud of being part of a great Regiment.
What Makes these Conferences/Meetings so Resentful?
The conferences are held to show that the boss has done his job of briefing anybody and everybody, many not even remotely connected with the task in hand, thus making him ‘safe’. The boss is mostly unsure about the task in hand and who will execute it and has normally not done enough homework. Most of these conferences tend to be confrontational instead of being collaborative, especially in a hierarchical organisation like the army.
These bosses tend not to get to the point quickly enough and often are with the bad attitude that the people sitting in front “just will not understand it”.
The listeners are mostly not the right people in the right meeting. Some do not even know as to why they were called for the conference, wondering what the meeting is all about. Even if they know what it is about, they are not prepared to contribute to the discussion or their inputs are never asked for
The boss holding the conference tends to lose focus and gets off track. These monologues do not to add value, but the boss feels that there have been value additions, but mostly are time wasters. These bosses do not realise that almost all the attendees already know that most of what is discussed and what their jobs are and the part they got to play.
Exhaustion spreads like wild-fire. All it takes is a couple people to start squirming and a few yawns and it spreads. This is compounded by the feeling as to why they were attending the meeting – to get ready for the next meeting.
Suggestions for a Good Conference/Meeting
Never Hold One. It is very apparent that many meetings serve no purpose. The best methodology is to consider two to three days in advance whether there is any way at all of avoiding the meeting.
Keep Attendees the Least. Fewer the people who attend the meeting the more effective it will be. Many bosses love to hear the sound of their own voices and the bigger the audience the greater the need to pontificate.
Direct the Meeting. It is much easier to control a meeting that is about specific topics rather than merely held for the sake of meeting itself. Allow all the participants to give opinions while at the same time stopping them from talking unnecessarily.
Know the Job in Hand. If you knew exactly what the job was, you would have never called for the conference; instead you would have given out clear cut instructions to your subordinates. If you know what you are trying to achieve, then it is far easier to do so.
Start on Time and End on Time. One of the most frustrating things about meetings is the long wait for a few stragglers who cannot be bothered to turn up on time. Avoid demonstrating Parkinson’s Law that work will always fill the time available to it.
Wishing you all the very best for your next conference/meeting.