Do we really need a meeting?

News on 09 October 2019

“Meetings are a symptom of bad organisation. The fewer meetings the better” – Peter Drucker

How many meetings have you attended where you felt that you weren’t contributing or the team were disengaged?

Maybe the meeting was poorly thought out or run, or maybe wasn’t needed at all.

Leo Quinn, CEO of construction giant Balfour Beatty, has empowered his staff to leave meetings that they feel they are not contributing to, so that they can be more productive.

Meetings broadly fall into two categories – cyclical and milestone based.

Cyclical is the weekly or monthly meeting, whereas milestone would be around an event in a project or programme. For example, a strategy brainstorm at the start of a business change or a check on readiness for product delivery.

Both types can be effective if managed well and sit within an organisational culture where meetings are part of a successful organisational delivery model. Meetings should not be a crutch to provide an illusion of control and progress, whilst hiding the fact that there are systematic organisational problems.

So do you need to be in the meeting?

If the answer to any of the following is no, then the answer is probably no:

  • If it is a cyclical meeting, do I find the previous meetings benefited me and the team?
  • Is there an Agenda?
  • Do I have a speaking and/or decision role within the meeting?

If an organisation is working well, then people are collaborating daily, sharing organisational values and objectives and communicating well.

This culture of trust and growth will make meetings a means of offering an organisational steer/governance/leadership and not be an end in itself.

When you do have meetings, manage them properly. Meeting cancellations, late attendance, blocking diaries with other stuff, not preparing properly are all signs of a poor organisational culture, as well as a meeting headed for failure. It tells staff and the organisation that the meeting is not important. Better to identify how to get to a point where diaries are protected, attendees are prompt and prepared. Behaviours around and within a meeting are obvious indicators of its ultimate success.

How to have shorter meetings

There are a number of more modern methods to try and shorten meetings.

  • Walking meetings
  • Stand up meetings (e.g. in the office kitchen)
  • 30 minute meetings, with agenda and reporting elements curtailed to suit

Tim Ferriss in his best selling book has clear opinions on the value of the meeting.

He feels no meeting should last more than 30 minutes and further feels that we should really think of e-mail exchange as a default starting point if we feel we need a meeting.

So why not critically evaluate your meetings?

  • Are your meetings efficient and effective
  • Are they a tool to guide shared objectives
  • Do they waste your time

Is it time for change?