VITAL SIGNS: Agenda bender

VITAL SIGNS: Agenda bender - Meetings are hell. That great leader of the Western business/industrial world Archie Norman conducts all meetings standing up. It gets people to the point and quarters average meeting times. But dysfunctional, dishonest and de

by PETER YORK, in his persona as Peter Wallis, is managing directorof consultants SRU, e-mail: peter@sru.co.uk

Meetings are hell. That great leader of the Western business/industrial world Archie Norman conducts all meetings standing up. It gets people to the point and quarters average meeting times. But dysfunctional, dishonest and depressing meetings still happen. And the happiness, transparency, bonding and empowerment movements make it worse. More meetings.

Bad meetings proliferate. For me, the warning signs of an awful meeting are either leaden eyelids ('Why couldn't a troll do this; we shouldn't be wasting our time on it') or mounting fury ('You're trying to bounce us into rubber-stamping your mad/self-glorifying/hopeless plan') or despair ('We should hold this in the pub for all the clear decisions we'll get out of it').

There are meetings called by people who really, really like meetings. Calling meetings gives them a role - particularly when it's a meeting about a meeting, a 'how should we play this?' when the issue is easily decided in five minutes by the water cooler. But for mediocre managers, process mania (a form of control freakery) goes under the new banner of transparency and consensus.

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