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Meeting hero or knee-jerker?

Quality meetings or not?

Quality meetings or not?

Did you know that there’s something about Brits and meetings?

On a training course (about efficiency) the Australian facilitator recalled a conversation she’d had – a Spanish colleague had asked her “Is it me, or do Brits have to have a meeting about everything?

Is that the case?

To discuss a new piece of work or project, or an update that takes more than a couple of sentences, often we may hear “Can we have a meeting?” Even when a comprehensive proposal has already been prepared. Then, until the meeting, the conversation is on hold. 

We can try “I’m not going to be able to make it this week but we could cover it by phone?” but even then the response may be “That’s OK – let’s make it next week.”

Sound familiar? Not surprising…

Management Today reported that the average UK worker spends 16 hours in meetings per week (a full year and ten days over a career) and in the public sector over a third higher than that. Eek! In 2012 Epson and the Centre for Economics and Business Research reported that meetings cost the UK economy £26bn and that workers report at least half of them as time wasted.

We’re so keen to meet face-to-face that we’ll delay business momentum. When many of us work geographically apart, why are we so fixated with meeting people in the flesh? Especially in the UK – train fares and fuel aren’t cheap.

Is it:

  • To delay a decision to avoid further work i.e. procrastinating?
  • To gain consensus to make a decision?
  • Because, without a face-to-face meeting, we’re not sure we can trust others?

What do we need?

No doubt most of us don’t want a pile of emails instead. So should we consider:

  • More focused conversations?
  • Less ‘decision by committee’?
  • Determination to move forward?

If so, we must:

  • Recognise time-savings
  • Trust our ability to ‘read’ and build relationships by phone
  • More readily use technology – e.g. through free video calls by Skype

But fundamentally, if it’s fewer meetings we need, how do we get out of them? 

If the example above is anything to go by, it’s standard practice to start to deal with any situation with a meeting. Worse still, some meetings end with the action of only a further meeting. So breaking this comfort blanket might be an emotional wrench for some, even if it’s recognised as a bad habit.

Ways we can improve are:

1. Smaller shorter meetings

A common complaint is the ‘talking shop’ for only one or two people. Accepting that a few meetings will be deemed vital, then if we can’t stop all meetings, perhaps include only those few who need to talk to each other – and for a briefer time.

2. Asking “Who’s contributing what?”

… followed by asking whether those who are just expected to listen should be there at all.

3. Key point standing briefings or bulletins

If action points and notes aren’t sufficient for those of us non-contributors, then how about fast options, in person, by email or a software system?

And of the smaller shorter meetings then walking and talking meetings are good for us – The British Psychological Society cites findings that workers spend on average 5 hours and 41 minutes sitting per day. Exercise accelerates brain function, plus walking meetings are probably more enjoyable.

On-foot meetings are known to dramatically reduce the duration and it’s impossible to kill someone with a slideshow if you’re taking a stroll. It keeps things simple if we can’t take copious notes. As for worrying about minutes, then a quick email note – confirming agreements made – may reduce the process considerably.

A cultural change is required.

When every reaction is to knee-jerk into ‘set a meeting’ mode then we need alarm bells to go off.

At least if we ask “Why a meeting?” then we can stop or shorten them, one at a time.

It’s not a new topic and it’s not just Brits. It’s an epidemic: Industry Week reported unproductive meetings in the US to be wasting $37bn annually – dubbing it ‘Great white collar crime.’

It’s overdue: We need ‘meeting heroes’ who defend our time, who challenge inefficiency and who promote constructive conversation.

Will you be next to cancel a meeting, change a routine, or set a fresh example and allow someone else to breathe a sigh of relief?

Please comment.

Other articles you may like:

Overcoming obstacles to quality conversations

Time that talking made a comeback?

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