Saturday, January 16, 2016

What Do You Do During the First Five Minutes of Any Meeting?

In a terrific article for the Chronicle of Higher Education, James Lang writes about how faculty members should use the first five minutes of class more effectively.   Lang points out that many faculty members engage in mundane logistical or administrative tasks during the opening moments of class (taking attendance, reminding students of items on the syllabus, talking about deadlines for future assignments).  He recommends a different approach.    Lang writes:

The opening five minutes offer us a rich opportunity to capture the attention of students and prepare them for learning. They walk into our classes trailing all of the distractions of their complex lives — the many wonders of their smartphones, the arguments with roommates, the question of what to have for lunch. Their bodies may be stuck in a room with us for the required time period, but their minds may be somewhere else entirely.  It seems clear, then, that we should start class with a deliberate effort to bring students’ focus to the subject at hand. Unfortunately, based on my many observations of faculty members in action, the first five minutes of a college class often get frittered away with logistical tasks (taking attendance or setting up our technology), gathering our thoughts as we discuss homework or upcoming tests, or writing on the board.

Lang has some great suggestions, starting with his first and most important one:  Open with a question or two.  In so doing, you articulate the purpose of that particular class.   Perhaps you intrigue them a bit and/or capture their attention.  You also invite their active participation.  

The same advice holds true for meetings at work.   As the leader of a team, consider carefully how you start your meetings.  Do you launch into mundane administrative talk, or do you articulate a clear and compelling question?   In so doing, are you articulating the purpose of the meeting quite clearly? Perhaps most importantly, by starting with a question, you are inviting your team members' comments, insights, and questions.  You are drawing them into the conversation and giving them license to share their ideas.  

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