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  • Steve Fairhurst

Let's not have a meeting

It will come as no surprise that many people in my line of work love a meeting. Meetings represent a chance to generate billable hours – and billable hours are money in the bank.


In my experience the majority of meetings are a waste of time. People discussing things that have already been discussed – at great length. People not really listening – just waiting for the slightest pause in order to get their interruption in.


People with their phones on their desk, which says “no – not really interested, I’m in a few WhatsApp groups that are set to blow up this afternoon.”


A great deal of importance has become attached to getting people together in the same room. This in increasingly frustrating as the motorways are three lane speed traps populated by idiots who think they're more important than you, reflected in their driving style.


Getting people in the same room is over-rated. You can see the uncertainty, taste the animosity and smell the fear. Very rarely does anyone say anything in a meeting that they know is going to challenge the status quo.


That will result in additional work or even worse, failure. Failure to be right, failure to deliver the goods as promised, failure to benefit in any career sense.


Meetings are often also dominated by one or two strong characters who eclipse the potential input of those who are less bold. This can often give a skewed outcome, with individual agendas and arse covering the order of the day.


I wondered if anyone else in the world shared my distain for meetings. I wasn’t disappointed. The first article I found (I never said this would be original content) was from the eminent Harvard Business Review. (1)


They surveyed 182 senior managers in a range of industries:

65% said meetings keep them from completing their own work.

71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient.

64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking.

62% said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together.


Personal agendas, rambling monologues, phone checking, the hell that is getting there. So why do we bother? It’s undeniable that meetings are necessary, but the nature and number need a serious shake up.


The technology we enjoy means that video conferencing is no longer akin to watching someone play Minecraft. There’s a definite argument that says if I can see you, hear you and don’t have to move too far, the world is a better place.


Every year since 2000, the time spent in meetings has increased by about 10% This perhaps is the most terrifying statistic of all.


The worst meeting I ever attended was with a husband and wife management team. They very quickly degenerated into a very bitter and buttock-clenchingly awkward argument.


Open mouthed I watched – as though watching a particularly gripping Wimbledon final. I genuinely believe they forgot I was there.


But it doesn't have to be that way.


TL:DR

If you’re looking for an 80% reduction in the time you spend in meetings, stick to a detailed agenda and deal only in the facts at hand. Appoint actions to people with clear deadlines. Then go to the pub.

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