I spend a lot of time in meetings. They seem to be a part of what we do. They are a part of the fabric that holds our organisation together. But why? Not why do meetings hold us together but rather why do we have them? What is their purpose?
Well that is easy isn’t it? We meet to bring people together to discuss issues, to resolve problems, to improve communication and promote coordination. Or do we? The cynic may say that we arrange meetings to avoid the work we were meant to do in the first place yet they occupy a much more prominent role in how we function, or how we don’t function.
Meetings do so much more and not all of it is healthy.
Meetings emphasise and reinforce hierarchies. Being invited to a meeting can mean that you are in while being excluded clearly marks you as out. This encourages everyone to attend meetings even if they are of little or no value to them personally. I thought that FOMO (fear of missing out) was a modern invention created by the Facebook generation and caused by the impression you get that everyone else is having a fabulous time whilst you aren’t. Clearly not! FOMO leads to higher than needed meeting attendance.
Being in the chair of the meeting can mean that you are in charge. It is you that can set the agenda (the formal one or the hidden one) and you can use your skill to get round to the topics and decisions that you wish to have discussed or made.
Meetings give the impression that something is being done yet often they soak up the time that is available to deliver the very thing that the meeting was about. Getting together allows you to talk about something and control the decision making process so that either the ‘right’ decision is made or it is put off to another time, another meeting perhaps.
Meetings can improve productivity yet can often have the opposite effect. If the meeting is too large or too general then for much of the time most of the attendees won’t be involved. They will look out of the window, doodle on their pads, try to answer their emails and be bored out of their skulls. None of these will lead to an effective engagement in the subjects covered.
So what can be done? Many people have come up with suggestions as to how to hold better meetings. Having agendas or not having agendas. Sitting down or standing up. Coming in just for the relevant bits or coming in for the whole time. Making do with short and punchy event or going for long and thoughtful.
Of course the answer is that there is no single answer. All meeting styles can have their use and it all depends upon what is its purpose.
Well that is easy isn’t it? We meet to bring people together to discuss issues, to resolve problems, to improve communication and promote coordination. Don’t we?
Just make sure you pick the right meeting for the right outcome.