Meetings suck. They really do. What's that old adage? "The camel was a horse designed by committee?" Or something like that. By the way, does anybody have a better idea of how to being this article? If so, please dress it up into a five-minute PowerPoint and be ready to present it next week. Greg, you're up next with the monthly sales reports ...
Seriously, though. I get the point of meetings. It's to improve corporate communication, keep everyone abreast of what's going on in different departments, and to facilitate creativity and the free flow of ideas. But there are other ways to achieve those first two goals -- and since when have creativity and idea flow been confined to a single hour in the staff room? Creativity's
just as more likely to strike spontaneously -- maybe during a quick break or in the middle of tackling a problem -- and be exchanged casually across the room, at a water cooler, or via internal IM or email.
My favorite type of meeting has always been the one where everyone gets together and discusses why things aren't getting done on schedule. I'll give you a hint: look around. This has seriously happened to me on multiple occasions in my young working life. "John, why don't you have that data analyzed yet?" Probably because I'm drawing cartoon dinosaurs in the margins of the agenda. "Because, um, I'm still waiting to hear back from a source regarding the validity of item 237." Or whatever. When I was a wee young "administrative associate" (newspeak for "receptionist") in college, I loved having to leave morning staff meetings to answer the phone. It became an ongoing mode of escapism each Wednesday morning, to the point that I daydreamed about getting friends to call the office every five minutes from 9 to 11. I figured that'd seem a bit suspect, though. But I digress.
Quick note to potential employers who may stumble upon this article far in the future: I really am a team player and a dedicated, attentive asset to the organization. I'm just employing creative license here. The idea struck me while I was not in a meeting. And besides, I've probably matured greatly between now and the time you're reading this. I promise.
By the way, those aren't just the antics of a bored young college student. Look around at your next meeting. I guarantee you'll see at least one well-established employee or even a department head doodle on a notepad, check email multiple times, or simply zone out. Identifying these people is a great way to pass the time in a boring meeting.
Jas Fried gave a riveting TED talk about the major obstacles to getting work done. In his talk "Why work doesn't happen at work," Fried holds what he calls the "M&Ms" of work accountable for most lost productivity. What are "M&Ms?" Managers and Meetings. Their most grievous offense is the disruption of work flow: meetings and managerial interruptions often happen right when an employee is in the middle of a project -- sometimes when he or she is on the verge of a breakthrough or a great new idea. Alternately, they happen at a time that stops workers from entering that flow state -- say, for instance, at 9:30 or 10:00, when everyone's just getting through their coffee and email and jumping into the thick of things. Here's a video of the talk he gave at the TEDxMidwest event in 2010. It's about 15 minutes long, so a bit of a time commitment. But if you have time to call a meeting this week, then you have time to listen to Fried:
One of my favorite observations of Fried's is that a one-hour meeting is never a one-hour meeting. If two people meet for an hour, then it's a two-hour meeting. If ten, then it's a ten-hour meeting. And if one person meets with himself for an hour -- well, that's ideal, really. I think I'll go try that myself right now.
Those of you who are bottom-line oriented may have already put this together, but here's the bottom line about meetings, especially long ones: they're often bad for your bottom line. Not does a one-hour, ten-person meeting cost you ten hours of productivity, you're also paying salaries and wages to employees while you meet. Factor in guest speakers, and coffee, pastries, or sandwiches, and the cost of designing that camel just went up.
All right, so meetings are essentially as inevitable as death and taxes, and they can -- at times -- be useful, productive, or necessary. But the following infographic from SalesCrunch gives you the straight dope on meetings. If you do decide to get everyone together, try to keep it short, to the point, and engaging, and when scheduling meetings consider who really needs to be there, what needs to be covered, and whether you really need a meeting at all.
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