We Hate Meetings… And It Shows

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We. Hate. Meetings. At least, most of us do. And many of us are pretty vocal about it. I did a quick Internet search on “we hate meetings”. It delivered over 52 million hits.

At the top of the search results, there are scores of relevant articles, studies and surveys. All of them tell us what we already know… that we hate meetings. Most of the surveys show the same reasons. We view meetings as:

  • A waste of time. We hear people drone on about things we already know, or things we could have been told in an email. “Meeting”  time distracts from “working” time.
  • Unfocused. Many meetings don’t have a clear purpose, agenda, or outcome. And most attendees aren’t focused on the meeting… they’re multi-tasking.
  • Undirected. Many meetings are doomed to fail, because no one took the time to plan them sufficiently, or to lead them effectively.
  • Unproductive. Often there’s no consensus on outcomes nor accountability for next steps.
  • Predictable. The same people do all the talking, while many participants contribute nothing.
  • Boring. There’s no attempt to make them fun… that may even be illegal, for all we know.

Even Peter Drucker was a skeptic of meetings. In The Effective Executive, Drucker wrote, “Meetings are by definition a concession to a deficient organization. For one either meets or one works. One can not do both at the same time…There will always be more than enough meetings…Every meeting generates a host of little follow-up meetings—some formal, some informal, but both stretching out for hours. Meetings, therefore, need to be purposefully directed. An undirected meeting is not just a nuisance; it is a danger.”

But, as Drucker alludes, is the poor quality and lack of effectiveness of meetings a cause… or an effect? Generally speaking, we’re not very good at activities we don’t care about. If you don’t enjoy making pottery, you will most likely make awful pots. So, if we dislike meetings this much, what kind of meetings will we make? Probably not great ones.

Instead, we make meetings that match our mental image of what a meeting is: “a necessary evil”. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. We, as managers, make meetings that suck.

It’s very sad, and it’s a disservice to ourselves, our teams, and our customers. Because meetings can be good for a lot of things… if they’re done right:

  • Tapping the collective intelligence and wisdom of the team
  • Building consensus, team respect, and trust
  • Solving complex problems
  • Mobilizing a team for action
  • Celebrating success

As organizations become more virtual and far-flung, and as the pace of work and change continues to accelerate, it becomes even more critical to make the most of the time our teams have together. We can’t afford to have terrible meetings. Nor can we afford to skip them altogether.

Many of those articles I mentioned earlier have “tips” and “tricks” for making meetings more effective. But if it were as easy as, say, “always have an agenda”, we’d already be doing that. It’s just not that easy.

I’m on a mission to make meetings more effective, to unleash the potential of teams to innovate, solve problems and act with consensus. I want to help everyone get the most from their meeting time together. In future posts, I’ll introduce principles and techniques that have been proven to work for our clients.

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