Why is it that after all that has been said and written about wasteful meetings, managers continue to conduct meetings that are unnecessary and wasteful? Carson Tate writes in the New York Times:
The meeting culture
that is dominating corporate America is unsustainable and unproductive.
How many meetings did you attend last week that didn’t even have an agenda? How many resulted in a new idea? And at how many meetings did you think, “Why am I even here?”
Time is a commodity. And time spent in a meeting should generate a return on investment. But how often do we think about our time that way, and set expectations for meetings to produce real returns? In my experience working with Fortune 500 companies, the answer is rarely. This is just one result of a meeting-intensive culture.
This problem is not new and neither are the solutions. The famous John Cleese video, Meetings Bloody Meetings, was first produced in 1976 and dramatizes humorously the ineffectiveness of most meetings. As I have written in previous posts, meetings are overused and under-designed. We can no longer afford to have meetings just because that’s what we do at 1:00 on Mondays, or because the planning committee has something to report, or because the COO wants to announce a new policy. These are not good reasons to bring people together, wasting their time and energy.
Technology has been both a blessing and a curse when it comes to meetings. On the one hand, location is no longer a barrier to group conversations. Smart phones, tablet computers, and laptops are all devices that allow people to participate in meetings remotely. On the other hand, meetings can be called with little planning and often with little consideration whether this is the best use of everyone's time.
In his 2003 book, Making Meetings Work: Achieving High
Quality Group Decisions, John Tropman offers
very practical advice on how to have a useful meeting. His research on this problem found that when leaders had successful meetings they almost always had these four features:
- Their meetings were characterized by decision accomplishment. Decisions got made in these groups. Participants appreciated the sense of closure that almost always occurred.
- There was little decision rework. The group did not have to get together to decide again something that had already been decided or, as likely, had been avoided.
- The decisions were good. There was a feeling, buttressed by reality as time passed, that the work of the group was of high quality. These were not just decisions made to “get something done.” They were thoughtful and reasoned, and they were actions that made a difference to the bureau, company, or agency.
- People had fun! These were meetings that participants looked forward to. There was a sense of enjoyment and involvement. Participants felt that their time was well spent. They felt the meeting they were in was the “real” meeting. It was an authentic team experience.
Meetings can be productive, meaningful, and fun. However, this requires leadership that is intentional about the design and facilitation of these gatherings. Meetings should have a plan, involve group decision-making, and create a collective sense of accomplishment. Otherwise, there is no need to meet.