Meeting Ourselves to Death

Good morning.3460357646_599a1fcf98Thank you all for coming to today’s meeting in which we will review all of our previous meetings and discuss the relative value of convening another meeting in which we will meet about the conclusions (if any) of this meeting. At that time, we will also be presenting a presentation of the presentations seen heretofore.

Clear?

If, by the time we arrive at Slide 421 of the 7,030 slide prepared for this debacle of a meeting, you have drifted into sweet somnolence, you may be forgiven. The fact is that we waste entirely too much time in meetings which have no point. In my view, these may not be classified as meetings.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I am a big one for meetings. I will suggest meetings, join meetings, schedule meetings, meet about meetings. Meetings have a function and are useful at the best of times. Useful, that is, as long as the meeting has a point. As soon as people begin doodling, making private lists, and shifting back and forth in their chairs, something is definitely wrong at the conference table.

There are, however, three simple questions which might be answered before calling a meeting.

1. What is the point?

This seems like a simple enough question, but I have often been surprised at the number of meetings to which I have been invited which feel like more of a fishing expedition. When you gather the staff around the conference table, it is not a time to get suggestions about the topic of the meeting. We should ALL know already. We may have already seen a written agenda for the meeting.

2. Who has to be there?

If we have to decide whether or not to accept a new client, the cleaning staff may not have to be present. On the other hand, six vice-presidents are not required to assess the placement of the soda machine on the third floor. Most of the VPs have never been to the third floor anyway. If at any point you ask yourself during a meeting “what am I doing here?” there can be but one answer: nothing.

3. What has to be decided?

Something always has to be decided at a meeting. If there is no decision to be brought, it is merely information which can be disseminated through other reasonable channels: email, web, or strategically placed post-it notes.

In the end, meetings are all about decision-making. In a democratic workspace, it may be that a vote should be taken. In a more autocratic environment, the decision of the day may only be to obtain buy-in. Whatever the decision is, there must be SOMETHING to decide – otherwise you have gathered and co-opted people who might be productively working at something else entirely.

Decidedly unproductive.

The three questions feel ridiculous when stated out loud. It would seem that the answers should be self-evident and therefore superfluous in the asking. But in applying the razor to any of the meetings which you call, you may find yourself with more free time to do that thing which allows you the liberty to call meetings in the first place: your business.

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