Meetings: what’s there to make a fuss about?

Quite a lot, actually. Ever since I let slip that I have been writing a book about a better way – a radically better way – to do meetings, reactions have varied from what I can best describe as supportive excitement (‘Oh, please yes. I’ll definitely buy a copy’) to jaded scepticism (‘There’s nothing anyone can do’).

Here are ten reasons why I believe that meetings are simultaneously the most dysfunctional item in the calendar, and the business activity most capable of being done in an infinitely superior way.

The five biggest problems first:

  1. It is estimated that wasted time in meetings costs around £50bn every year in these islands alone. That’s more than the defence budget. It’s a scandal, and a really good reason to take the issue seriously. That time does not have to be wasted.
  2. Organisations, companies, businesses allow their best people to spend at least 50% of their time in meetings, instead of doing proper work. How can I put this really simply? This need not happen, because many meetings are bound to be unproductive, and most of them are attended by far too many people.
  3. But it’s not just the organisations at fault. Many of the problems in meetings stem from bad etiquette and inconsiderate behaviour. This behaviour can and should be improved.
  4. The bigger the meeting, generally speaking the worse the behaviour? Why? Elementary psychology (and maths) tell us that the more people in the room, the less the opportunity for individuals to speak and contribute. Result: frustration, aggression, selfishness and the rest.
  5. Why don’t we arrange a meeting and invite all the stakeholders? Wrong! This is a very common mistake. If you are looking to manage change, or make a big decision, or drive a vital project, the last thing you want is all the stakeholders. They (or at least some of them) are the very people who will resist change, slow down the decision-making process, and hamstring the project. Don’t confuse efficiency and democracy. Getting things done necessitates keeping people informed, but you don’t have to do the two things simultaneously!

Now for the five steps to solve the meeting crisis – or at least the one with strategic and dynamic meetings, that solve problems, create opportunities, and drive innovation and growth:

  1. Accept that strategic meetings are like buses, stores in a Mall, or security guards. You need several to get the job done. Managing change, making decisions, and leading a successful project will require a series of meetings, not just one.
  2. Organise and orchestrate these meetings, like you would an event, or a team performance in say sport or entertainment. Don’t leave things to chance, to individual will, or to the fates. Manage the meeting with a hand-picked two person team.
  3. Start each meeting small, and keep it small by only inviting additional participants sparingly, and letting them go once they have made their contribution.
  4. Mandate a spirit of co-operation and good behaviour by insisting that each participant accepts the injection of a large dose of empathy.
  5. Keep crazy-busyness at bay, and promote focus, by insisting that participants prepare for meetings, follow them up, and never accept the booking of back-to-back meetings in their diary.

MOTE: The Super Meeting is going to be published in May. Till then, I can only suggest taking the five problems seriously in your business (and your life), and looking at how you might be able to do things better along the lines of the five tips above. Yes, and saving an extremely modest sum to purchase ‘Mote’ when it comes out!

This is David’s blog for the Marketing Society in April 2015.

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