Museum Staff and Meeting Horror Shows


How many of you dread meetings? Is your dread equally balanced between those you run and those you attend? I work in a culture that has long confused the act of leadership with running meetings. This is a bad thing. Leaders don’t get any smarter when you put them in front of a group and ask them to lead in public. A lot of leaders seem to believe that the act of putting people in a room together will engender some chemistry that magically pushes a program forward. Would that it were that easy. Your team won’t learn to like each other, respect each other or feel the happiness of success by attending meetings where nothing happens. Here are ten thoughts for successful meeting leaders and five for those around the table:

  1. Be respectful. Show up on time; if you’re using some form of technology, test it first. Seat people so they can see one another’s faces.
  2. Have an agenda. If you haven’t taken the time to strategize about where this meeting should take your department, team or staff, what does that tell those attending?
  3. Stick to your agenda. Appoint a time keeper if that helps. Yes, it’s wonderful to see staff involved and passionate about a given subject/project, but if a topic is that important, it can likely wait for its own meeting. So be prepared to shut off discussion, and appoint someone to move the topic ahead in another venue.
  4. Ask your colleagues to close laptops and put away phones. Being present is being wholly present.
  5. Begin with a check-in. Ask participants for a 0ne-minute summation of their week. This is one of many bridging activities that clear peoples’ heads for the work ahead. You may have other ways of checking in.
  6. Follow the check-in by confirming assignments from previous meetings are moving forward. This is not the opportunity to call anyone out in public, but simply to acknowledge work on ongoing projects.
  7. Set aside time for the big-topic issues. Let your staff know your goals ahead of time.
  8. Make time for creativity. Every staff needs to know its ideas are valued. Keep track of new ideas. Make sure the good ones are developed. But be wary of becoming obsessed. Not every shiny object is worth picking up, and innovation for its own sake is a dead end.
  9. Take minutes and send out a post-meeting summation of what happened.
  10. End on time. And thank everyone.

If you are a participant:

  1. Be on time. Leave your laptop at your desk and turn your phone off.
  2. Leave your bad day at the door. Give your colleagues your respectful attention.
  3. Help shift the conversation if it starts to drift into the weeds.
  4. Summarize what you don’t understand. By doing that you not only clarify your own thinking, but may help colleagues too reticent to ask themselves. For example: So our assignment is to outline the programming that will accompany the exhibit on ancient manuscripts. And you would like to see us experiment how?
  5. Read the meeting’s email summation and make sure that what you think happened and what you’re responsible for are the same as what your chair, department head or director has written.

Last, whether you’re a participant or a meeting leader, bring some self-awareness to meetings. Reflect on what happened. Acknowledge what was great and what could have gone better. Recalibrate. Go forward.

Joan H. Baldwin


3 Comments on “Museum Staff and Meeting Horror Shows”

  1. Love the ideas! my pet peeve is cell phones that constantly twirp or whistle during a meeting followed by late comers.

  2. Hi Joan. Great suggestions to improve meetings! What are your thoughts about this for staff/volunteer meetings? Do these guidelines need to shift a bit? I’m thinking both of board meetings and volunteer committee meetings. Thanks!

    • Hi, Andrea.
      I’m not sure the guidelines need to shift that much. Is there any reason that volunteers couldn’t do a check-in at the start of a meeting? Perhaps not board members, where things are potentially more formal. But I certainly think both groups can be asked for full attention and to put away electronic devices. And, they can both utilize time at meetings to focus on big issues. It’s sometimes good for board members and volunteers to really talk about issues, but as with any group, managing discussion, keeping it on track and ending on time, are all important.
      Good luck,
      Joan Baldwin

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