In defence of meetings

Though much maligned, getting everyone around the table isn't always pointless.

Last Updated: 03 Jul 2017

When someone asks you what you do, you usually respond with your job title. But if they wanted to know what you actually spend your time doing at work, what would you say?

If you’re an office worker, the honest answer would probably include a mix of answering emails and the telephone, making tea, maybe a bit of number crunching or research, and meetings, meetings, meetings.

The average UK office worker spends up to 16 hours either in meetings or preparing for them, with the figure rising steeply as they climb the corporate ladder. Much of that time, one imagines, is spent wishing they could be somewhere else.

The pointless meeting, after all, embodies the bureaucracy and inertia that beset organisations as they mature.  It’s natural to wonder whether we should rediscover our inner start-up and just do away with them altogether.

Let’s think that through though. The function of meetings is to exchange facts, share views, make decisions and build relationships, all of which are essential for any organisation. The question is really whether these need to be formal and face-to-face.

Clearly, the answer to this question will sometimes be no. But at other times, as frustrating as meetings can be, they are often the only way of getting a group of busy people together at the same time, especially if they work in different locations.

It’s hard to see how you could make an important strategic decision that involves different functions via email or informal chats in the cafeteria. Without a meeting, the decision making process could quickly become opaque, with people deliberately or unintentionally left out.

How to avoid the dark side of leadership (and keep your job)

Besides, the problem with meetings generally isn't to do with the fact that you hold them, but with how they are held. 

Smaller meetings are going to be far more effective for relationship-building than larger ones, while sending out a written report and following it up with a short Q&A is a far more efficient way of disseminating information than having everyone sit through a two hour presentation.

The key is making sure you’re mindful of how the meeting helps the business achieve its goals, and what it costs the business in terms of precious man-hours, before you commit those resources. Maybe then, you’d actually find the meeting useful, productive and maybe even a little rewarding. Stranger things have happened.

Image credit: John Benson/Flickr


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