Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Meetings - Corporate Procrastination

Hands up if you've been in a useless meeting this week. It's Friday, so I'm guessing most people reading this have probably been in several useless meetings by now. If you're very lucky your useless meetings may have been interspersed with some useful activities some which involve people other than yourself but would you call them meetings?

I could write a few paragraphs about how you could make your meetings more effective. They'd include having an agenda, an outcome, the right people invited, and having those people prepared for your meeting.

I could extend that list of good things to do in advance of your meeting with some advice on how to run your meetings more effectively. They'd include turning up on time, sticking to your agenda and purpose, keeping people focused and included, not having laptops and phones in use, and keeping brief minutes, at the very least recording any actions arising and decisions made.

But the best solution, is simply to consider the alternatives to having the meeting in the first place.

Even when scheduled in advance, every meeting you convene is going to cause someone an inconvenience, including yourself sometimes.

  • Since they accepted the invitation your lead engineer may have suddenly come up with an idea to solve a problem that's been nagging around for a week and now has to break their train of thought to up sticks to attend you useless meeting
  • Your product manager may have spent most of the day in useless meetings and hasn't had a break or even lunch and is becoming less and less engaged whilst thinking about his evening meal
  • The marketing manager is on leave so you'll have to update her on the outcome of your meeting as soon as she gets back - so you've already scheduled another meeting for the two of you
There are dozens of valid reasons why people have something better to to than sit around talking about stuff when they could be doing useful stuff. Admittedly, the options almost always involve disturbing someone, but it's almost always better to annoy one person at a time than a whole bunch of people simultaneously. So here are some alternative options:
  • Put your discussion items in an email and ask the most appropriate people to comment on them within a specified time. This at least allows the individuals to schedule their time to suit them rather than finding a mutual time that is inconvenient for everyone
  • Go and talk to someone over a coffee (or pick up the phone if you're not co-located) for an informal chat when it is convenient for you both
  • Save your topic for inclusion in another meeting where a suitable action can be taken on how to proceed - you might not need a full meeting to get a resolution
  • Allocate a fixed time every week to discuss a bunch of little things that don't each need the disruption of a full blown meeting
  • Consider whether the subject matter itself actually needs to be discussed in the first place. Half the meetings that take place in the office are about things that are so unimportant that they don't warrant further discussion let alone a whole meeting!
Meetings are great for making you look busy, and great for giving you something to do when you're bored but there are better solutions to cover both those situations. If you can cut down on the number of useless meetings you set up and have to attend, it might even make the useful meetings work even better!

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