Meeting Madness...

Written by Steve on 22/07/2019

The Theory

Meetings are an opportunity to share information, ask questions, seek opinions, make decisions, create actions…communicate. The good ones, yes. A well prepared, well organised and well run meeting is all of the above and more. Sadly though, the vast majority of meetings in organisations fall well short of this…

At some point in recent or ancient history, a decision was made (most probably, not by you) that a meeting needed to take place. Alongside that decision was the selection of who ‘should attend’…and lucky you! Your job title made the guest-list!

Such meetings will have at the heart of their instigation and on-going longevity a good and valid reason or reasons

  1. To be held at all
  2. To have you on the attendees list

And as such they form an integral part of the rhythm of the business…almost the beating heart of ‘how we do things round here’.

After all, intelligent (and busy) people would never call a meeting without good reason…would they? And surely by inviting you to give over an hour of your over-burdened diary surely must mean that your input must be essential?

The Reality

Pretty much, every leader and manager I speak to will have meetings in their diary that they profess to being frustrated with and simply find of little or no value. On average, when examining leader’s diaries it’s not unusual to establish 30% or more of their meetings as redundant in some way. 

Every business has an almost sacred schedule of meetings, be it end-of-month reviews, strategy reviews, daily operational meetings, communication meetings, financial reviews, project meetings,  setting to work…the list is endless. Whatever the flavour, there must be a purpose, and that my friends is ACTION. Pure and simple. Any meeting which fails to create explicit action is a waste of time. Harsh words I know, so let’s look at a process to hep us understand where we are in meetings and where we can get to.

‘In the beginning’ there was DATA. Masses and masses of numbers thriving and multiplying within our IT systems and files. All lovely and valuable…at least to the analysts. To the rest of us mortals, this endless tsunami of numbers is useless, confusing and ambiguous to say the least. 

This is where our analyst friends come into play. They identify patterns within the data and convert it into formats which help us to see, interpret and understand what is happening within the data, so making it INFORMATION. (Those of you who believe the purpose of meetings is to provide information may just want to hold back on your celebrations…) Wonderful, wonderful information, which in and of itself might be interesting, but ultimately leaves us asking ‘so what’?

Something else needs to follow, shared information needs to have a shared context or MEANING. Without meaning, your information can be soon be misinterpreted in millions of ways in my mind, none of which may be helpful, for instance, a decline in customer complaints may mean we’re doing a fantastic job…it may also mean we are so terrible that our customers have quit complaining and joined our competitors. So, by creating meaning we step closer to Nirvana, but we still have a way to go.

Meaning and context enables us to make effective DECISIONS. Knowing our complaints are down could drive a decision to research further, analyse other trends, celebrate our greatness…even sack some poor service staff! Again the list is endless.

Now we’re almost at the holy grail…every decision should lead to a definite ACTION, without which, even the best made decision is nothing more than a fantasy, wish or dream, consigned to the ‘good intentions scrap-heap. Someone, somewhere needs to put up their hand and say ‘I’ll take that!’…and then go and do something.

What I find in every case of frustration is that the meeting has lost sight of it’s overarching PURPOSE, and that is to drive decisions which compel action to be taken. They have become talking shops where attendees bring more and more information to the process and make less and less decisions

It is believed that the average person makes in excess of 14,000 decisions every day, from the clothes we wear to the food we eat and everything else life holds for us. Sadly we only act on around 4% of these decisions. Look at that on a corporate scale, how many people, how many decisions un-actioned…how much time wasted and at what wage cost?

Wicked Thinking

For any meeting you are invited to, ask yourself or the meeting organiser these simple questions:

  • What is the purpose of the meeting? 
  • What specifically do you need from me?
  • What decision(s) are we needing to make?
  • What actions need to be created and driven?

If there are no clear and compelling answers to these simple inquiries then, you’re looking at a solid gold dud! My advice at this point is to respectfully decline to attend.

If attend you must then you need to get some clarity on the questions. This is not being stubborn or unhelpful, quite the opposite. By demanding clarity you are demonstrating not only that your own time is valuable but also the time of everyone else on the attendees list.

Make a stand. If the meeting adds no value to you, has little or no purpose, drives no decisions or actions then DON’T GO. Trust me, the world won’t stop turning…

If that’s too strong an action for you then consider attending only for the agenda items that impact you, or require your input, decision or action, then leave!

And for the advanced class - the same thinking can be applied to the hideous dark arts of CC’ing on emails. Anyone who has a valid contribution to make should be on the invitation line…just like a meeting) if you’re CC’d then its more than likely a ‘for info’ message, and lets face it we have all the information (and more) that we need.