For meetings’ sake

A senior level friend of mind posted on facebook that today was a good day because she only had one meeting booked and it got cancelled.

Why do meetings suck so badly? And moreover, why do we insist on having them?

This is my quickfire attempt at why they suck:

  • We perceive them to be interruptions that are a poorer use (read ‘waste’) of our time than whatever else we were working on
  • They are typically boring, prone to distractions and side-tracking, and often irrelevant to our focus
  • They spotlight attendees which can make them feel uncomfortable – and rarely for good reason
  • They usually absorb more people than is necessary because to do so provides a ‘comfort buffer’ for organisers (attendees that are there just in case something comes up that’s relevant to them)
  • They rarely generate a more positive outcome than had they not happened

Ask around your friends and colleagues. You will be hard pushed to find someone who looks forward to meetings. We all know that sense of relief when they get cancelled. Yet still they plague our working week, devastating our productivity, dampening our momentum and chipping away at our morale.

Here’s my quick fire attempt at why:

  • The ‘regular meeting’ is an institution that nobody has the balls to can
  • Managers abuse meetings as a platform to exercise their egos
  • They are wrongly perceived to be a useful way to facilitate communication (eg. going round the table updating ‘the team’ on what you’re working on)
  • They are abused as a sneaky way of shifting responsibility to others
  • They are called for by cry-babies when an issue arises they can’t handle

So what to do?

I have cobbled together this quickfire list of tactics to help mitigate the negative effects of meetings on your productivity and sanity:

  • Take control. Someone has to wear the bossy pants to make sure the items below are managed.
  • Determine what the desired outcome of the meeting should be and if it could be better accomplished another way – for instance with an email directive or one-to-one (eg. to delegate work) or by using an internal social media network (eg. to update on progress or performance)
  • Figure out who really needs to be there – will their attendance in the meeting really enable them to be more productive than doing their work? Almost certainly not.
  • Have an agenda – and make it relevant, even if that means it only has one item on it. Cancel the meeting if there is nothing to say.
  • Stick to the agenda – avoid side-tracking – keep the usual motor-mouths under control.
  • Watch the clock. Don’t overrun. Don’t wait for tardy attendees to start.
  • Meet in an uncomfortable space (eg. standing up by the water cooler) so everyone is focused on getting the business done and getting away – don’t involve food. Keep the spinach and tuna wraps for after the meeting to incentivise everyone to get it done quickly.

To change behaviour you often have to change culture, and that takes leadership, courage, vision and determination. These qualities may not always be in bountiful supply, especially in larger organisations. Meetings are too often used as a substitute for for poor communication – a cumbersome way of getting ‘everyone on the same page’ because they are inept at writing or reading emails, following directives or using digital communication tools. To remedy this, it is necessary to change the culture, implement the tools, hire the right people and proceed with the confidence that you are covering all the bases and that everyone is happier, better informed and more productive.

Families don’t have formal meetings to know what’s going on with each other. You don’t meet with CNN or BBC to keep a finger on the pulse of the world’s news agenda. You don’t have a weekly one-on-one with each of your 600 facebook friends to get a good feel for what’s what. So why do it at work? You don’t need to when you have the right approach and the right tools. Why not use that time being more productive instead.

This is a nice piece on the subject:

http://www.askamanager.org/2011/09/what-will-make-meetings-useful-for-my-team.html

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One thought on “For meetings’ sake

  1. Add to your list, “Have an agenda, and share it prior to the meeting.” Assign different members a piece of the pie, have people contribute with something that may actually be interesting. If you can’t make an agenda, chances are you don’t need the freaking meeting! 🙂

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