Tag Archives: meetings

We must stop meeting like this

15 Feb


Keeping it brief

I worked in a police station for a couple of years. Not as a police officer, but it was a public-facing role, so I’d often attend the briefings at the start of each shift. These briefings were short, direct and focused. Everyone listened. There was always an opportunity to ask questions, but ask something stupid or obvious, and you faced the ridicule of your colleagues. Questions were rare. If you wanted more information, you could usually find it in a report.

The Japanese art of anti-meeting

Fast-forward a few years, and I found myself in my first teaching job in Japan, at my first weekly teachers’ meeting. I was bursting with ideas and opinions, but no matter how tentatively or respectfully I framed my comments, no-one seemed in the slightest bit interested. It took me another week or two to realise that these weren’t really meetings, they were briefings. You sat, listened and agreed. There was no agreeing to disagree. No serious discussion. The only real amusement to be had was to treat these ‘meetings’ like a game of poker and try to establish who really agreed with the decisions that were being communicated.

Meeting overload

Now working for an international publisher, having just one meeting a week is a distant dream. I spend an average of two hours a day in meetings. That’s 25% of my working week. And given that a meeting generally requires more than one person to be present, I’m sure I’m not a unique case. Many of these meetings are useful and necessary. Many others are not.

When I call a meeting, I think carefully about what I want to achieve, who needs to be there and if a face-to-face meeting is really necessary. I’m respectful of people’s time and will always circulate an agenda in advance so as not to spring surprises on anyone. I haven’t been trained to do this, it just seems like common sense. However, after (okay, to be completely honest, during) a particularly unproductive and painful meeting I was required to attend recently, I decided to Google good meeting practices to see if anyone had positioned themselves as an expert on the subject. No surprise, I guess, that quite a few (thousand) people have. Sifting through all the ‘5 steps to awesome meetings’ nonsense, I came across this little gem in the Harvard Business Review: Make Every Meeting Matter

Don’t always have a meeting

Many of the points made in this short HBR article are blindingly obvious, yet the problem in my experience is that the blindingly obvious is regularly missed. Meetings all too often become the lazy, default reaction to a problem or challenge, and almost become an excuse not to get on with addressing an issue. Why think something through yourself if you can pass your problems on to a group of other people to discuss (and rarely solve)?

Perhaps one of the most useful suggestions made in this article is ‘don’t always have a meeting’. Meetings are not the only way to collaborate or to distribute information. And if what you really want to do is simply discuss something, then go and have a discussion. A chat over coffee may well be what you need, not a windowless room full of people wondering why they’re there.

“If you can consistently have good, productive meetings then your company is going to perform better.”
Frances A. Micale, Not Another Meeting! A Practical Guide for Facilitating Effective Meetings (Oasis, 2002)

Think it through

To conclude, if you want an informal chat with someone, arrange an informal chat. Don’t call it a meeting and then bring in half a dozen other people just in case they might have something to add. And if a meeting is necessary, then so is an agenda. Just because you’ve been mulling something over for days, doesn’t mean I have. I’m useless at mind reading and I don’t like surprises. Every hour spent in a meeting is an hour that’s not spent doing other work, so make sure there’s a purpose to the meeting and some tangible outcomes. In short, please, please, think before you meet.

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