The Emerging Voice Against Meetings

It’s Monday morning… and I thought you might enjoy these rather cynical quotations on meetings, all compiled in a very interesting report sent to me by a client and good friend of mine.

“A meeting is a gathering where people speak up, say nothing, and then all disagree.”

“A meeting is an interaction where the unwilling, selected from the uninformed, led by the unsuitable, to discuss the unnecessary, are required to write a report about the unimportant.”

“A Meeting is indispensable when you don’t want to get anything done.”

“A meeting is a place where you keep the minutes and throw away the hours.”

“Time and Money, money and time, with respect to meetings they intertwine. And, when all the costs are added up, it blows your mind.”

There’s a growing trend against meetings, and a general perception that their cost exceeds the value they bring. Some will tell you just to skip your next meeting.  Others say they should be cut out altogether.

I’m not so cynical as to believe there is no use for them at all.  Part of the problem is that we see our next meeting as an end in itself.  At best, we look at them like a chore – like doing the dishes or walking the dog or taking the kids to school.

I like to think of meetings as a tool, or a set of tools. Some meetings can be useful for sharing information.  Others are necessary for holding people accountable.  Still others, the most important, are critical for making decisions. When we focus on the objective of the meeting, and the benefit it will bring to us and those participating, suddenly the meeting begins to work for us rather than against us.  And when we begin to use meetings as a means for accomplishing our work and refuse to let them take a life of their own, they become a valuable mechanism for becoming more effective.

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Meetings & People: How to work with them

In the last two posts we discussed why meetings are here to stay and how they make us want to throw bricks at people.  After all, people are the primary cause of frustrating meetings.  But I guess getting rid of them (that is, the people) won’t get us very far.

In fact, the same people that make meetings frustrating and painful also provide us with the opportunity to improve our meetings.  You can’t control people, but you can observe them.  And you can influence them.

Remember, meetings are the most common forum for making decisions.  And until a decision is made, nothing happens.  When a decision affects more than one person, it often requires a meeting of some sort.  That means we can’t just make meetings (or the people in them) go away.

So what should we do about them?

The key is to begin to recognize.  When we do, we can have a positive influence on others even when we’re not leading the meeting.  You may not see immediate results (apart from what you get out of the meeting), but over time you’ll become a change agent.  Here are a few starting suggestions:

1)    Watch and listen, as we did with the example in the last post.  You may be surprised at what you notice.

2)    Prepare beforehand.  Determine how you will benefit from the meeting, and how you will contribute to the meeting.  Use it as a means to accomplish your (and the organization’s) goals.

3)    Understand the Purpose. Before the meeting begins, go ask what the purpose is.  Consider your role given that purpose.  You may not even need to be there!

4)    Consider, “What decision(s) must we make?  How can I help the leader/facilitator in his/her efforts to reach that decision?”

Well, there’s a start.  Tell us how doing these things have helped you during meetings.   What else have you done to positively influence others in a meeting?

In future blog posts, we’ll explore many different ways to effectively lead, facilitate, or participate in meetings.  On Monday, we’ll start a series called “It’s Monday Morning…,” with some practical tips you can begin using immediately.  You can also look at our facilitation tips videos for ideas.