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And I don’t mean the fun, social kind of pow wow. I mean the endless amount of business and department meetings some of us are required to attend on a weekly basis. If your organization is like many others, it is highly dependent on staff and committee meetings as part of its communication and operational processes.

Studies have found that most American employees spend more than eight hours a week in meetings (16 plus, for some executives and managers). I am convinced that this may be an understatement in Indian country. Our collective nature and traditional decision making processes may lend to over dependence on meetings in the Native workplace.

For some industries, extensive meetings may be a necessity. Keeping close and careful communication is critical among some workers (such as in the health and law enforcement fields). Frequent meetings cannot be avoided. However, in many cases – particularly in business – the over-use of meetings may end up being a drain on time and resources. In modern businesses and organizations, we should constantly be evaluating our processes for cost versus benefit, while attempting to maintain a productive work environment that is conducive to Native culture.

In addressing our own attitude about workplace meetings we might consider: how many of us eagerly jump up out of our chairs and hurdle our way into the conference room to get the best seat when it’s time for a staff meeting? This might be an indication of the negative feelings most of us have about our workplace meetings. In business, extensive meetings can not only be counterproductive, but costly and time consuming. Whether it is the whim of an over-controlling boss (who wants to know who jammed up the copier again), or the requirements of a highly diplomatic organizational culture. Meetings may be over done in our workplaces.

Native businesses and organizations rely on close interaction between one another and encourage equal participation of our members. So attempting to eliminate the use of meetings might not be practical or even recommended. When important issues arrive, we are expected to fully discuss them with one another, based on our traditional protocol. But improving the efficiency of our meeting time can also be a good goal. Meetings can and should be useful and productive, but in order for this to happen you must plan carefully and take into consideration how to control the content, facilitation and outcome of your staff meetings.

Some tips for efficient use of meetings include:

1. Keep meetings to a set time limit. If a meeting drags on too long, participants may become bored or frustrated. They will lose interest in the meeting. Be aware that the average human attention span is about 15 minutes at a time, which means your group will mentally tune in and out of a meeting. You must focus on gaining their attention and keeping it for a reasonable amount of time so important information can be shared and retained.

2. Control the content. Some meetings tend to get out of hand. People take the opportunity to talk about many issues – this can become extremely boring for other group members when it doesn’t relate to them – or they will use the opportunity to vent about their frustrations, which can cause conflict among members or bring down group morale.

3. Stay organized and follow an agenda. Try to stick with what is on the agenda so employees can stay focused on pre-identified issues. Suggest time allocations for each item. Make sure all participants get a copy ahead of time, so they will be prepared to discuss agenda items. In some cases agendas are not only recommend but a legal requirement, according to policy or bylaws.

4. Consider re-structuring your staff meetings by department. Smaller meeting groups tend to be more productive. The more participants you have in a meeting, the more time a meeting will take, unless the communication is one-way and restricted to announcements.

Our Native American cultural characteristics encourage open discussion and equal participation of group members. Workplace meetings are an important way to ensure this, but in business we might want to consider the cost of staff time. In many cases, time spent in meetings is time taken away from completing important work tasks. Can your business or organization afford that? It might be helpful to ask some important questions and determine work-related priorities when considering the use of staff time. As Native businesses and organizations, we must constantly strive to keep our businesses profitable and our service organizations effective.

Lucinda Hughes-Juan has many years of teaching and training experience in the fields of business and management, with a focus on the cultural dynamics in Native businesses and organizations. She is an enrolled member of the Tohono O’odham Nation. She holds an M.B.A. in global management, and is a Ph.D. candidate in business and organizational management. E-mail her at