Are Most Meetings a Waste of Time?
It’s difficult to find anyone who defends meetings—with the possible exception of the writer of this article, which claims that when done well, meetings can actually make participants more creative. But this article seems to be addressing collaborative efforts rather than the dull, yakety-yak meetings so many people have to attend.
Despite the many articles on holding fewer meetings, there doesn’t seem to be a difference in the number of meetings being held. Making matters worse, many of these meetings are too long and people arrive late, leave early, wander off topic, and focus more attention on texting and tweeting than paying attention and contributing. It’s not surprising that as many as 85 percent of managers think their companies’ meetings are unproductive.
In searching for tips to improve meetings, most of what I found are things you already know: Every meeting should have a concrete goal, and ideally, a measurable goal. To the extent feasible, relevant information should be available a day ahead; that way, at least some people will use it to prepare. Start on time, and don’t brief latecomers on what they’ve missed; if they’re essential to the meeting and can’t be there on time, postpone the meeting. (OK, for the Big Boss, maybe you should wait awhile before postponing.)
It’s recommended that most meetings should go no longer than an hour. But even shorter meetings may help people focus better. Shortening a meeting forces everyone to narrow its focus, eliminating the “fluff” and all the off-topic chatter that diverts from the purpose of the meeting. Of course, stand-up meetings are another option. But stand-up meetings don’t work for everyone or in all circumstances.
In some companies, the meeting organizer collects mobile devices at the beginning of the meeting and returns them at the end. While this might help people focus on issues relevant to the meeting, some people view this tactic as treating adults like children. I can’t say I blame them.
Sometimes, symbols can help people focus on the issue at hand. One company places a small statue of an elephant on the conference table to remind people to raise uncomfortable issues regarding the decision under discussion. While food works for getting people into the meeting room, it may add more to their calorie count than to their eagerness to participate.
Some people recommend that if you view a particular meeting as a waste of your time, you should decline or simply not attend. Is that something you’ve ever done?