“Meetings are a waste of time”

Image by Ronald Carreño from Pixabay

It was with some recognition and amusement that I read a recent article in the New Statesman on a study of meetings involving 76 companies and 25,000 employees.

It’s confirmed: meetings are a waste of time 

I had shared my own thoughts on meetings with colleagues a week ago, which I had written in January 2021. So it was nice to add to that discussion with this article.

There are some interesting lessons to learn from the study.

The most common meeting structure is one in which junior employees do the work of providing information to a manager, then wait and watch while others do the same. Mostly, it’s a performance – one that cements the social hierarchy of the company and the authority of its managers.

I have been in many of these kinds of meetings. However as a manager I did try and avoid these and have more structured reporting and meeting as a result.

I find that often meetings are held because people don’t prioritise reading reports and want to be told stuff. Highly inefficient and also pretty ineffective way of sharing updates and information, more so when it has to be cascaded down (and across) the organisation.

There are tools out there that can automate reporting (such as JIRA) and be used to create triggers that can then result in a meeting or conversation to solve the challenge or issue. Otherwise it can be slow waiting for that fortnightly meeting to share a challenge that you didn’t even know was a challenge until it got brought up in a meeting!

Image by Ronald Carreño from Pixabay

Meetings are also expensive.

…if a manager uses a two-hour meeting with 18 colleagues to make some decisions, they’re spending person-hours equivalent to one person doing an entire week’s work.

This kind of resourcing impact is often missed by those involved in organising and running meetings.

I am not sure even if meetings are the most effective way of making decisions.

The article says when one multinational was asked about trialling meeting-free days:

managers at one multinational did what managers do: they called a meeting. Then another. Then another, and another, and another, and… “They actually had 17 recorded meetings, at an average of two hours… 34 hours of their lives, they spent to decide whether they were to opt in!

At the end of those 17 meetings, they still hadn’t made a decision!

Image by Gerhard G. from Pixabay

So does reducing meetings increase e-mail, well the study found that:

…the reduction in meetings didn’t lead to an increase in the other great stressor of white-collar life: email. 

Add to that the quality of email communication and collaboration rose as well.

In fact, employees’ satisfaction with how they communicated rose. More hygienic meetings lead to more hygienic communication elsewhere.

As you might expect I also have some thoughts on managing e-mail.

It doesn’t mean we should never have meetings, the study was about reducing the number of meetings, raising the quality of meetings and improving communication overall. With the aim of improving performance and productivity.

I do think as well as reducing meetings you should also look at how you structure and run meetings as well. Thinking about the purpose of the meeting, the urgency, the importance and who needs to be there.

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