It is not a secret that most of us attend way too many meetings than we care to admit. Case in point; today is Thursday, and chances are that like most blue and white collar professionals in the public, private, and third sectors, many of us have already spent at least 4 hours on work related meetings this week alone, and yet the working week still has a day to run!
What exactly is wrong with meetings, I hear you ask? Well, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with them. What is peculiar, however, is how often meetings are applied as the go-to-solution to many problems we face in the workplace rather than as a means to breakdown a particular problem and find a viable solution.
Although some of us have attended carefully prepared, well executed productive meetings over the years, the majority of us continue to be subject to unproductive and time wasting meetings day in day out.
Such ineffective meetings often have a negative impact on the way the final goal is achieved mainly because they start late, run long, go off topic, fail at assessing resolutions set in previous meetings, and even worse, if the agenda is not distributed ahead of time.
The case of back-to-back meetings is especially rampant in the public sector where bureaucracy leads to endless meetings, endless paperwork, the unwillingness to adapt to change quickly, and so on are applied on a daily basis so much so that the actual productive work being done is dwarfed by these bureaucratic steps needed to be followed each working day.
The need to talk more often comes at the expense of the urgent need to go and do.
Do not get me wrong. Meetings can be a great thing – when planned well, they are an opportunity for a group of colleagues to sit together around a table to directly communicate in relation to planned and / or on-going projects.
However, when meetings are the norm of an institution and used as the first resort to any problem big or small, they inadvertently foster the need to always find it necessary to first discuss issues rather than apply immediate action.
Meetings after meetings are a secret killer of productivity simply because the mere existence of them during the day just about guarantees you will not get as much done.
For instance, if your department spends an average of 2 hours a day on meetings that adds up to a mind-blowing 21 days a year spent talking about what needs to get done. Astonishing isn’t it?
Focus on action not bureaucracy
I am not naïve to pay no attention to the necessary steps needed to plan, evaluate and execute projects, which is why like most people; I understand that although meetings are a problem, they are also a necessary evil.
That said, however, I must emphasise that institutions should find ways to learn how to circumvent the traps of unproductive meetings.
To start with, before arranging a meeting, there must be good preparation; define the purpose of a meeting, develop an agenda, and distribute the agenda ahead of a meeting including relevant material so that participants are fully prepared.
Also, choose an appropriate meeting time by setting a time limit and sticking to it. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of time management. Likewise, during a meeting, it is essential that the agreed start time is respected by all for a meeting to end on time.
The next priority should be to discuss matters listed on the agenda; failure to do that will render the meeting unproductive and a waste of revenue if you are from the private sector, or a waste of taxpayers’ money if you are indeed operating in the public sector.
Secondly, institutions must develop a corporate culture to always remember the value of a meeting, ask yourself; was progress made toward goals, and did you learn anything?
If the answer to both these questions is a flat no, then perhaps your institution ought to re-evaluate the precious commodity we call time.
In the likely event that another meeting is called - it will be, instead of automatically accepting a request, pause and consider your return on time spent there or the return on a citizen’s wellbeing.
Will this meeting help you in achieving your goals? How does the purpose of the meeting align with the institution’s strategic priorities?
On balance, we all recognise that meetings are necessary. However, not all meetings are, and the sooner we acknowledge that the sooner we can focus on doing. Some institutions have remedied this obstacle by applying principles of New Public Management which advocate for a hands-on approach, transcending everything else.
Similarly, those in charge of conducting meetings may wish to consider investing in technology to enable colleagues to share documents, ideas and action plans without the need to actually hold a meeting which inevitably affects productivity.
Likewise, it is also reasonable to limit meetings to an hour or two, one day per week, so that the other days remain uninterrupted allowing employees to focus on productive work.