It's not possible to read any new or old material about organizational behavior without coming across a screed or two on the general subject of how too many meetings simply represent a waste of time, energy and resources. I've taken a shot at it, too. (See How to Deal with Time Wasters) Such sessions rarely accomplish anything except maybe some pseudo-bonding.
they don't have a logical and clearly-understood endpoint so they seem both pointless and interminable; and, most often, they sorta drool to a conclusion without agreed-upon action items and/or documented next steps for at least half the people in the room.
Maybe holding meetings for meetings' sake makes the miserable managers feel more productive, but they don't do much of anything for the business. If the people in the meeting really had a choice, they'd rather spend quality time with their dentist than spend minutes they'll never get back helping justify someone else's job security. Managers who don't already (and always) have a pretty solid handle on what their folks are doing or about to do (and why) aren't doing their own jobs.
Unfortunately, every business-- regardless of age or size--seems to suffer from this syndrome. What I find frustrating is that meetingitus doesn't appear to be getting any better. I see it every day walking around 1871 (and we're supposed to be leading edge) peering into conference rooms, where two seconds of checking peoples' postures will tell you the whole sad story. Are they engaged and leaning in, are they actively contributing to the discussion, or are they just leaning back and shooting the breeze? And the worst cases are the alleged leaders sprawled all over the place like a bag of spilled and soiled laundry. Watching the last remnants of any energy seeping slowly out of these unwitting captives sitting sadly in their chairs is truly depressing. I'd rather watch Love Boat reruns.
Make-work meetings are a menace to your company's momentum. They suck the oxygen and the urgency out of whatever initiatives and good ideas might be floating around. They're poorly planned, badly organized and run, and grudgingly attended by people slouched in their seats sneaking a peek at their phones. The only people who really enjoy these sessions are those seeking a respite from doing any real work: they're more than content to sit silently and focus on keeping their eyes open. (See Trying to Motivate Your Employees? Forget It.)
Frankly, any recurring staff or team meetings (especially kick-off meetings for the week) that take more than 30 minutes are probably over-populated, attempting to cover a bunch of unnecessary stuff, giving everyone a chance to chat so we don't hurt their feelings, and otherwise driven by some foolish need to justify the time spent by the attendees in getting to the meeting. Here's a flash: the shorter the meeting, the more people who will thank you, regardless of the length of their journey. Everyone's got better things to be doing.
Sharing important and timely information in regular update sessions only makes sense if every participant consciously edits his input and if some of them - from time to time - are smart and courageous enough to zip it and spare us a useless report or a compulsory comment. Not every department is doing something every week that honestly matters to the whole team.
Here's a simple rule of thumb for when to keep your own mouth shut: don't say a thing unless it's going to help someone else in the meeting do their job better. Otherwise, don't regale us about how you spent your weekend or plan to spend the week ahead. Trying to keep everyone in the loop on everything is a game for losers and a major time suck. You want your people turned on--not tired out-- especially as you start out the week.
The key is to keep the meetings that you absolutely must have as "CRISP" as you can.
Concise: More than a couple of topics is simply too much - focus on a few important things.
Rigorous: Keep everyone on the case. Start with questions, end with answers and action items.
Immediate: What needs to be done well right now. Push off the stuff that can wait a while.
Short: Not one minute more than you need. No need to fill the time with fluff or folderol.
Prompt: Start and end on time - every time - and let the latecomers watch from the wings.
About the Author
Howard A. Tullman, CEO, 1871
Howard Tullman has over 45 years of start-up, management, IPO and turn-around experience and an extensive operations background in web development, online services, large-scale information assembly and delivery systems, database design and implementation and the development, creation and production of all types and formats of multimedia, computer games and audio/video digital content. He has designed and developed GUI and natural user interfaces, interactive and immersive games and instruction systems and other electronic entertainments, training products and services, as well as other information-based products and services in a variety of fields including automotive, insurance, CRM, employment, real estate, consumer goods and social media.