“Meetings Bloody Meetings” – now the biggest obstacle to progress faced by businesses all over the world

The greatest challenge for business leaders? Profitability? No. Productivity? No. Sustainability? No. Communications? No. Diversity? No. Red tape? No.
I’m talking about The Meeting – the dysfunctional and villainous consumer of people and time. It should be the pathway to decision making, the engine of progress, and the multiplier that translates individual talent into collective excellence.
Instead meetings in most companies achieve little, demotivate participants, and waste time and money – £26bn was the estimate of the cost to the UK economy of time squandered in meetings in 2011 alone.
I have spent a quarter of a century helping clients make a very important decision for them – which agency to appoint to transform the fortunes of their brand. Each pitch process has involved scores of meetings, which I have sat through and observed. There were also years of studying decision science, and researching and writing my book DECIDE, which I wrote because of my conviction that decision making is the single most important skill in life – not just for business. You can’t make business decisions or implement them without meetings. All this has given me a personal perspective on the meeting, and the frustrations it brings.
But I have also researched widely, and meetings seem to be the bane of most people’s life – here and around the world. Here are my Top Ten most obvious meeting mistakes:
1. Poor leadership
2. Ineffective follow up and implementation
3. Failure to set a goal for the meeting
4. Too many items on the agenda
5. Too many attendees. Did you know that at least 32 ministers now attend cabinet meetings? In a 90 minute cabinet meeting that gives each minister less than three minutes airtime!
6. Not enough time spent on preparation
7. No effort to profile participants, so as to get a balanced team. (Team – so the meeting is supposed to have a team dynamic?)
8. Loud voices allowed to dominate
9. People getting away with overtalking and interrupting
10. Too much confrontational behaviour and tone (the technique favoured on radio programmes like the Today Programme and Question Time).
And those are just features of the old fashioned face-to-face meeting, with everyone in one room. If they seem to work increasingly less efficiently, what price the ubiquitous conference call and telephone meeting? Nightmares for the most part. Dominant and persistent voices rule. Conference calls for the most part are all output, with everyone queuing up to speak. Any listening is passive and grudging. I feel that conference calls don’t work well even as status updates. As a forum for decision making they are quite simply hopeless. Video conferencing and Skype work better, but usually seem to suffer from many of the defects of ‘live’ meetings.
People’s preference for social media and one-to-one communications has also made traditional meetings unpopular. Think of all those personal brands sitting around the table!
Is there anything that can be done? I think that it’s not enough simply to do a ‘taking the car in for a service’ job every time a company realises it has a problem with the way it uses meetings. We need to be much more ambitious.