Meetings are the symptom of bad organisation. Yes, but no, but maybe?

20130414-191305.jpgFor anyone who works in a large organisation this will resonate. You can back it up with comments you might have heard over the years, like; “meetings suck the life-force out of me”,that’s two hours of my life I will never get back” and “that was a big waste tax payers / shareholders money”.

Top tip for really dull meetings: pretend you have to visit the bathroom. Go and do some useful work, then return just before the end of the meeting. Nobody will have the courage to ask why you took so long.

Back to the full quote by Peter Drucker,meetings are the symptom of bad organisation. The fewer meetings the better”.

The point seems to be that meetings represent a failure to properly plan and organise what you are doing. As a result you end up in meetings trying to fix things that haven’t worked. Ultimately if you have to spend time in meetings, you aren’t doing the things that really matter like: making products or delivering services.

There is plenty of research and figures to back up the idea that meetings are a problem. This paper by Romano & Nunamaker analyses a huge amount of the research written about meetings and presents some depressing findings:

  • Many reviews and surveys reveal that meetings dominate workers and managers time and yet are considered to be costly, unproductive and dissatisfying.
  •  The number of meetings and their duration has been steadily increasing.
  •  Studies of managers and knowledge workers reveal that they spend between 25%-80% of their time in meetings.
  • Self estimates of meeting productivity by managers in many different functional areas range from 33% – 47%.

I said it was depressing. Just imagine you are one of those knowledge workers or managers who spend 80% of their time in meetings, of which only 47% of that time is productive. That’s over 40% of your time in work, 2 days a week, doing something that is useless (and we worry about people wasting time on social media…….).

This lack of achievement and the frustration that goes with it has to have an impact upon your level of engagement and sense of job satisfaction. This paper by Rogelberg et al in Human Resource Management (March-April 2010) makes the link between overall job satisfaction and meeting satisfaction. It goes on to suggest that meeting satisfaction could be used as part of job satisfaction measures and employee engagement.

If you fancy a more in-depth look at this topic, and potential solutions, one of the co-authors of the paper, Joseph A. Allen runs the Centre for Meeting Effectiveness Lab  at Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska. There are some useful links on the page to work that the Lab is doing.

So, we need to ban all meetings! (Not quite yet……Rambo)

This could be one response to the ‘meetings problem’. As attractive as it might seem (to some people) it might actually make things worse. Meetings are very necessary for transparent decision making, relationship building and knowledge exchange. I’ve argued before that knowledge exchange is a social process  and meetings are a good place to achieve this. What we need is better meetings.

Having better meetings depends upon better process and people’s behaviour. Before any of this you need to be confident that you need the meeting in the first place, which links back to the Peter Drucker quote, “the fewer meetings the better”.

Meeting process and behaviours are two things I plan to write some posts about soon. In the meanwhile some more meeting quotes: (there are thousands on the web)

  • “A meeting is an interaction where the unwilling, selected from the uninformed, led by the unsuitable, to discuss the unnecessary, are required to write a report about the unimportant.” Kayser
  • “An employee who needs permission to buy a box of paperclips can spend tens of thousands of dollars worth of employee time on bad meetings.”

So, what’s the PONT?

  1. Meetings are very necessary for many good reasons like; transparent decision making, relationship building and knowledge exchange.
  2. The numbers and duration of meetings for managers and knowledge workers is increasing.
  3. The costs of bad meetings in lost productivity and reduced staff satisfaction are huge. We need to have better meetings, starting now.

Picture Source: Some useful tips here on how to make meetings more effective.

20130414-191327.jpgAn old favourite.

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

5 Responses

  1. Louise

    Another great post. I hate pointless meetings so I always try to make sure other people don’t feel that way about mine. I *try* to always tell people at the beginning why they’re there, what I expect from them and what the point of the meeting is (giving in, getting a decision etc). My biggest tip is probably don’t be afraid to finish the meeting early if it’s over.

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