If in doubt, don't have a meeting

A survey suggests that nearly half of all meetings result in no action, costing UK plc £10bn annually.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Now while we are naturally sceptical of PR ‘research’ which claims to be able to put a monetary value to such things, the finding that nothing whatsoever happens as a result of a whopping 46% of all meetings is enough to make anyone stop fiddling with their BlackBerry and pay attention. It certainly confirms our suspicion here at MT that, even in times of economic woe, too many managers call too many meetings simply as a means of looking like they are doing something, rather than with any specific goal in sight.

The survey – which polled 1,500 managers across the country – was carried out on behalf of a firm called Meeting Magic which, as you may have guessed, has an interest to declare. It’s a meetings consultant. But that’s not to say they don’t have a point. The root cause of the problem, apparently, is that people don’t take meetings seriously enough and don’t prepare. A claim backed up by the frankly amazing finding that only 5% of meetings have a clearly defined and understood aim.

And while you might think that the recession would put such wasted effort into sharp focus, and result in fewer and more productive meetings, it seems you’d be sadly mistaken. The survey reports that while companies are cracking down on the cost of meetings – so no swanky biscuits, fresh coffee or posh sarnies – they are not paying attention to the much more significant issue of productivity.

So what is the point of having a meeting if nobody at it knows what they are supposed to be achieving? The cynics among you might suggest 'a**e-covering', but that’s really not good enough. Pointless meetings spread a culture of inertia and inaction which is damaging at best, and can be deadly in times as tough as those we are currently enduring.

Their proposed solution is simple – or sounds it anyway. Focus on outcomes. Before you call a meeting, stop and ask yourself what you want to come out of it with at the other end – a yes or no decision, a set of recommendations, an action plan that can be implemented. That way you will know who to invite, who not to invite, and when you’ve achieved your objective.

And if you can’t readily answer that first question, then do yourself and everyone else a favour and don’t call the meeting in the first place. You know it makes sense.

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