“Are you lonely? Bored? Nothing to do? Well… no problem, just call a meeting! You’ll get to sit around with your mates, get coffee brought to you and discuss nothing of any consequence. Best of all, you don’t have to do any real work and before you know it, it’ll be time to head home.”
I remember this poster from my early days and lately it has been playing in my head like an irritating, albeit relevant, ABBA “song worm”.
It seems like meetings have become the holding pattern of corporate life – a safe, decision-free zone to hang out in, ironically at a time when we desperately need to land and tackle some very pressing issues.
Sitting through a particularly mind-numbing meeting recently gave me the opportunity to reflect on the biggest culprits – the meetings that we all dread but grin and bear in equal measure, the ones that give all other meetings a bad name.
First to mind is the “It’s that time of the month/week/day/quarter“. We get through these only with smartphones or laptop lifelines to alleviate boredom. I know it’s an old joke but for those that have to sit through so-called “Bored” Meetings… it must have crossed your mind!
The chart-topper is an abomination I call the “Parktown Prawn”. The good old “thanks everyone” just doesn’t cut it. There’s always another comment, another viewpoint, something else to think about. About the only thing worse than this is the “Extended Parktown Prawn“, a regular get-together where the majority of the time is spent re-discussing what was discussed at the last meeting.
It’s not surprising that in a Microsoft survey of 38 000 people across the globe inefficient meetings topped the list as the biggest waste of time and the most destructive force in terms of employee morale and productivity.
The missing ingredient
Despite all of the above, it’s not the idea of the meeting that’s the problem. Getting a whole lot of people together to express their ideas, voice their opinions or share facts is a good one. The missing ingredient is a decision that results in action. Decision-making comes right back to the leadership and strategy arena. Meetings sans an outcome or a decision are best described by my opening quote. They are an undemanding waste of time and an incredibly frustrating drain on productivity.
Not deciding is also a “decision”
“Decidere” is Latin for “cut off”, in other words – choice. A leader that cannot choose where to allocate resources is not a leader at all. He/she is advertently or inadvertently putting the company into a holding pattern, which in itself is a choice (think of all the resources that are wasted while we fly around in circles).
Why are we so afraid of making decisions? Are we paralyzed by corporate governance restrictions? Are we carried away by democratic ideology or politically correct consultation? Are we just too scared to do something when there’s a chance that it could be wrong or fail? Ironically the more we discuss (and don’t decide and act) the slower we react, the less responsive we are to the environment and the more we put the business at risk.
What goes wrong … and can we make it right?
All we do is “talk talk”
Only 12% of executives believe that their top management meetings consistently produce decisions on important strategic or organisational issues. Making the decision the starting point of the meeting via a decision agenda as opposed to a discussion agenda focuses the meeting towards a well-considered decision that will result in action.
In the (potentially unlikely) event of a decision, making it stick is often a bridge too far. There are as many interpretations as meeting delegates. Communication (or often non-communication) to the rest of the company may be inconsistent and uncoordinated. Taking time to explicitly agree on “what we have decided” and then specifying the resources (time, talent, money) needed and the outcome expected, will make a difference.
The bottom line is if a meeting doesn’t feel like real work, we have to ask ourselves – isn’t there something better we should be doing with our time?