In Praise of (Useful) Meetings

One of the items that is a perennial in our staff satisfaction survey is the comment “we have too many meetings.”  Many organizations face the same feedback. A recent article I read on productivity suggested we should avoid meetings at all costs, quoting the billionaire Mark Cuban as saying that one should “never take meetings unless someone is writing a check.”  That’s easy for him to say. He pays people to have the meetings to get to the check-writing part of the deal.

Meetings for a dispersed organization with a value of collaboration are inevitable and necessary.  Useful meetings are, unfortunately, not inevitable.  I had a colleague tell me of an experience where someone blocked out two hours on her online calendar with a meeting request, then showed up at the appointed time without an agenda or even an understanding of why they had called the meeting.  No one was sure if the right people were in the room. The participants ended up stumbling around until the crux of the matter at hand was identified, which was then dispatched in less than 30 minutes.  I told this individual that anyone in our division has my permission to refuse to accept open-ended meeting requests for long blocks of time that do not have a clear agenda or purpose.

Death by Meeting

Death by Meeting

Patrick Lencioni’s book Death by Meetings suggests a different way.  Lencioni says we have to

“…fundamentally rethink much of the way we perceive and manage meetings.  That means we cannot keep hating them.  And we must abandon our search for technological solutions that will somehow free us from having to sit down face-to-face.  And we have to…accept the fact that bad meetings start with the attitudes and approaches of the people who lead and take part in them.”

In this work, Lencioni notes that the “single biggest structural problem facing leaders of meetings is the tendency to throw every type of issue that needs to be discussed into one meeting” instead of clearly distinguishing between various purposes, formats, and timings.  While the format won’t work all the time, he suggests we think about check-ins, tactical decision-making, strategic planning, and periodic review as different types of meetings with different timeframes, different participants, and different venues.

I am not a big fan of George Will, but he does have a good line about why baseball is preferable to football, and that is because the latter “combines the two worst things about America: violence punctuated by committee meetings.”  If we focus, we can do something to make the meetings in our lives much more useful.

Have a good week.

More to come…