Employee relations professionals and business leaders who work in unionised workplaces will spend a fair bit of time in formal meetings with union and employee representatives. We often hear people say that union meetings are run differently to other workplace meetings. Behaviours are accepted that would be challenged elsewhere - people are late, unprepared, often distracted and not listening to each other. There is more tension or conflict than in other meetings. Minutes are contested and actions not completed. Sometimes, an inconsistent group of attendees turn up and no-one is absolutely sure what the overall purpose of the meeting is. There are long lists of "any other business", often important but rushed through at the end as many people have somewhere else they need to be.
With meetings like this, it is understandable that energy levels are low and employee relations is the part of HR that many colleagues would rather avoid. Can’t we all go to the meeting where we talk to happy people about happy things?
But they don’t have to be like this and shouldn’t be like this. These are meetings where employee voices are heard, diverse perspectives are shared, problems need to be solved and workplace changes need to be made. What happens in these meetings impact how relationships will be built across and throughout the organisation. Constructive and productive meetings reflect good relationships, provide stability and also facilitate change.
Below are 10 changes you can make to your union meetings which will have a significant positive impact on the organisation and on the decisions that are made.
Be clear on the meeting purpose and how this meeting fits into your overall engagement structure
Agree who needs to attend and define their role. Only by defining the purpose of the meeting will you know who needs to attend the meeting
Jointly define the behaviours that you wish everyone to abide by, ensuring that everyone feels comfortable to contribute, not just those with the loudest voices
Plan agendas jointly in advance
Rotate the chair and share the ownership to increase buy-in
Limit "any other business" by better planning and by improving relationships outside of meetings so that problems are regularly solved and not stored up for the next meeting
Take actions and note decisions that are made in the meeting, rather than taking verbatim notes
Get into the habit of completing actions on time. Follow up between meetings to track actions and provide support for resolution where necessary.
Focus on working jointly outside of meetings to solve issues in advance of the next meeting
Review the meeting effectiveness regularly and revise if necessary
These changes will ensure that listening to employee voices is a valuable activity that business leaders, HR and employee representatives will want to take part in to shape the world of work. With this type of pay-back, it is worth investing in jointly training your managers and representatives in meeting skills.