Ah, the meeting. It’s in the hall of fame. A mainstay of the majority of businesses small and large. You could pick a handful of companies right now and be confident that at least one of them will be having a meeting.
With so many occurring the world over, they must be a good thing, right? Get 10 or 20 people in a room and hammer stuff out. Get things done. Move things forward. Everybody important. Everybody busy. The meeting, the meeting, that wonderful thing.
Meetings are bad for reasons stemming from psychology to economics.
Let’s look at the basic numbers.
If you have 8 employees in a room for 3 hours once a month, call it a board meeting (they are terribly important), that equates to 3 working days attributed to the meeting (assuming an 8 hour day).
That doesn’t include the preparation work, the reading of various reports prior to the meeting, the distribution of meeting minutes, amendments to minutes and so on. It also doesn’t include the meetings that arise as a result of the meeting and the cost of decisions not taken and points not raised (to be discussed later) during the meeting.
3 working days per meeting, 12 meetings a year, equalling 36 days a year on one meeting type.
Assume that each of the meeting members could be doing billable work at £100 per hour, that’s £28,800 of lost annual revenue for one meeting once a month.
As a company, what could be done with that revenue? A new salary? Testing of products or ideas? A cool marketing campaign?
Multiply that by the hundreds of catch-up meetings, meta-meetings and meetings stemming from meetings, and you can quickly see how a big chunk of resources is being eaten up.
The numbers scare me. Those alone should put you off. If they don’t, let’s delve into the psychology.
The first thing to consider is the human desire to be liked. It’s a craving, a desire, a need. “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” This has big implications in the meeting room.
We love flattery and kindness, so if someone makes us feel good about ourselves in the meeting room, bang goes our objectivity when that person speaks.
2. Social Acceptance
We crave social acceptance. Social acceptance and meetings don’t play nice. It creates conflict. We find it hard to challenge somebody when we are seeking acceptance from an individual or group.
So when the boss says something stupid, such as “water will go out of fashion”, you often find in the wonderful meeting environment, that the comment will pass as acceptable. The normal response from a rational, common sense speaking individual would be something like:
“Surely master Yoda, for all of your wisdom, you have on this very rare occasion made an oversight. For water is not a product subject to the whims of fashion, it does not come in and out of season, it cannot lose its appeal. In fact, water is a necessity. It’s the stuff of life. Without it, we would not be here. It’s like oxygen, or food; we need it.”
But no, instead you will find blank stares, quiet desperation and then a general agreement that the boss is right.
We can already see, through liking and social acceptance alone, meetings can induce madness.
Social acceptance stops us challenging decisions and using sound judgement. In groups, to be socially accepted, we copy others. So if the group is particularly unfair about another staff member, for fear of standing out, you may yourself following suit, or at least not taking a stand.
It’s the same principle behind rioting and mob behaviour and it’s dangerous. The more people there are in the meeting, the less responsibility we feel in taking action.
To combat this, you should remind yourself that what is popular is not always right. Use your own judgement, judge by the facts alone, and take a stand when you disagree.
We are also overwhelmed by authority. When the authority or expert tells you something is so, you take it as so. If your doctor says you’re sick, you assume you’re sick. If a teacher tells you you’re wrong, you assume you’re wrong. If your boss, the guy who pays your wages, says black is white, all of a sudden black does look kind of white. Add in a dose of stress and pressure, coupled with liking and social acceptance and you get a cauldron of disaster.
So, in short, meetings can be unproductive for bosses and employees alike. To combat this, avoid having meetings where they are not necessary. Send email, have a brief call, send small updates on project status and next steps taken to move the project forward. Use collaborative software.
If meetings are absolutely necessary (which in some cases they are), you can take steps to ensure they are both efficient and productive. For starters, have an agenda sent out in good time before the meeting. Task each person to think through the points and have responses ready for the meeting. Schedule the meeting so that it cannot go beyond a certain time limit (say, 20 minutes). Encourage each member to think and contribute openly. Utilise strategies, such as the 6 thinking hats strategy, to ensure objective responses are made; and aim to have outcomes, or action points, for each of the agenda items.
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