Meetings about Meetings

Meetings. Love them or hate them they are a necessary evil in modern organisations. They are a space for decision making, a forum to share ideas or reach consensus, a time to troubleshoot problems – they can be a real force for good. But not always.

Interestingly a recent study from the University of Malmo, suggests that meetings can also serve other more self centred purposes or even therapy for senior executives. Meetings are the lifeblood of my organisation, I also think they could be a major blocker to us moving forward.

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.” Dave Barry

Our traditional meeting culture is something that I have thought about a lot and have been working hard to change – but yet there a number of reasons why they are so popular…

1. Meetings are a forum to assert authority or show how clever we are. We all know those people that are great in meetings, they may be ineffectual otherwise, but you can’t help but admire how articulate or dominant they can be around a meeting table. It has a major bearing on how we are perceived by other people in the workplace.

2. Having lots of meetings is great for showing how important we are. More meetings, means more busy, means more important. I am ashamed to admit that when people comment on how busy my own work diary is, my internal monologue is saying “yes, that’s because I’m really important”.

3. Meetings are a good way of appearing that you are actually doing something (when you may not be). How often do we run through actions and someone responds with, “ah yes, I have a meeting about that next week”. In their own mind, they are addressing the action, but in reality meetings do not equal progress. Meetings can be the process for moving things forward, they are not an outcome.

4. Meetings are a nice way to pass the time. Often you can be in a meeting room with people you like, so why not bring cake, start with the small talk and let the meeting conversation go off on tangents. It certainly beats doing other more productive activities. It amazes me how often meetings stretch up to or just beyond the scheduled end time. We all then rise up, grab our things and trot off to another meeting. Sometimes people are surprised or even slightly put out when meetings finish ahead of schedule!

5. My own personal pet hate… Meetings are a great place to respond to e-mails or do other ‘work’. Now we live in an age of mobile devices, it is easy to get distracted or just fail to engage in a meeting entirely. For me it’s pretty simple – if you need to be in the meeting, be an active part of the meeting, if you don’t need to be there or have sonething else to do, then go and do that instead.

6. And finally… meetings are a way of showing you are ‘communicating’ with the wider team – and yet the reality is there is often a mad scrabble to produce a credible agenda at the last minute! If there is nothing obvious to communicate then cancel the meeting and give everyone the time back. Instead focus on having a more meaningful dialogue when there is something to say!