Is meeting murder?

26th January 2015

I am compelled to write this having just read the London Times article They Say It’s Good to Talk but in Business, Meeting is Murder by Sathnam Sanghera. I need to have a rant!!!

This article exemplifies the problem with the way most leaders in organisations think about meetings. The article states that Mattel have ‘declared war on meetings’ because a new website took a year of meetings to create and because a logo had 30 versions before launch. So, Mattel clearly have issues in the way people collaborate and the way decisions get made. They ‘blame’ meetings instead of looking deeper at the underlying cultural issues that are preventing people from collaborating effectively.

Ideas like these don’t address the root causes of issues with group work in meetings:

  • No more than 10 people per meeting. Why 10?! What if a robust decision needs expertise from more than 10 functions?
  • No more than 3 meetings to make a decision. Why 3? A more productive solution would be to identify the decision making process rather than an arbitrary number of meetings.

And these ideas, from the author, clearly come from someone who has not experienced effective group work in meetings:

  • ‘Ban technology.’ WHAT!! Don’t blame the technology. Blame how, when and why it is used! Only use technology that serves the purpose of the meeting but don’t blame it all or we may as well go back to slates and chalk.
  • ‘Highlight the expense.’ OK, well maybe this might avoid people calling meetings without purpose but what about focus on the opportunities. There is money to be made from collaborating effectively. What about going after that, too?
  • ‘Conduct meetings standing up’ and ‘before lunch, when people are hungry’ because these are really going to get the best out of people, isn’t it!
  • ‘Aspire to eradicate meetings entirely.’ So we should stop collaborating completely. REALLY!!!

OK. So now I have got that off my chest….

There is a growing amount of research into how much time managers and leaders spend in meetings. The article refers to research by Harvard Business Review and London School of Economics that shows 25-50% of meetings are a waste of time. However, I attribute the number of meetings in businesses to the need for people to connect and collaborate in our business environment. The author, who suggests we eradicate meetings, is suggesting a new product can be launched by one department, or one person, alone. That’s just not possible in large organisations.

The issue is that when people come together to work in things called ‘meetings’, they often don’t have the skills to harness the group to work effectively. Meetings can be fantastic, motivating places where people share their expertise and great work gets done. Unfortunately, meetings are also the place where organisational culture plays out in our day-to-day work. If there are cultural issues that get in the way of collaboration, then meetings fall foul of this. This is what needs addressing, not the number of meetings.

If you are a leader who wants to transform how people get things done, don’t ban meetings. Figure out how to make meetings magical!

We can help. To learn more about having effective meetings call us at +44 (0)1628 471 114 or complete the contact form. We enjoy engaging around meetings that have impact!