Killing the Ineffectual Meeting

Posted on October 27, 2011

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Are you this guy in work meetings?

The business world is rife with Bob the accountant or Pete the project manager getting their social kicks out of work meetings. I don’t know about you but I like to keep my socialising predominantly amongst my friends and outside the office. Socialising with work people can be fun but I’d rather do that over a pint and an oversized shot of whiskey then crowded around a table listening to monotone Matt and wondering what techniques I can use to stay awake. (Causing pain to one’s self is a good one as well as considering conjuring up the latest work gossip)

Meetings are occasionally worthwhile but there is a stark difference between one that is necessary and one that you should flatly decline with a simultaneous smirk, tsk and a ‘no’. Ok maybe not quite like that but the message is that you need to be the judge of what value you are providing and getting from attending the meeting. Optimally you want to be working on tasks which either provide you experience pivotal in moving your career forward, the management exposure to highlight what a great job you can do or helps you towards the previous two goals. Everything else should be treated as extraneous. Sure this approach can take you away from the nice and endearing label of affable but the question is ‘are these people key to advancing your career and if so would they rather you be affable or effective?’. A lot of the people who do drag you into meetings will probably be a no to the first question and I reckon your direct colleagues and especially your management would rather you be tearing through the work.

Here are some simple questions I ask myself whenever a meeting invite is forwarded to me.

– Where’s the agenda? All too often a meeting invite is sent without an agenda and if this is the case I doubt they’ve really thought about your input in any detail. Its not a bad thing to implicitly teach people that they need to think about what they want when they approach you.

– What am I getting out of this? A seemingly selfish question but we need to be in this world where everyone and everything is trying to thief our time and attention. There are meetings whereby there is something of value to obtain but we need to be sure that the value is usable within a definable time. There’s no point going to meetings where the information ‘might be handy one day.’ We also need to question whether the meeting is the best way to get the information you need.

– What is it you need from me? Sometimes you’ll need to attend a meeting because you’re a subject matter expert or your consultancy is required. If this is the case then I ask ‘how many people actually require my consultancy?’ If its a number then yes its gonna be more effective to you to present to an audience rather than an individual otherwise schedule time at your convenience to deliver your advice or even better, point these individuals to alternative resources.

Conversely these principals need to be followed if you are the meeting organiser. Will a work task be more effectively achieved with an individual one to one meeting? Can I obtain answers in an alternative but more direct way way?

If the answers to these questions point to not attending the meeting then you’ll need to put your case to the meeting organiser. Like any compelling argument there’ll need to be a solid amount of rationality and probably a good dash of spin-doctoring but you will have established that in answering those questions above. I’ll certainly be covering this aspect of shaping arguments in a future blog.

A great book I read recently which affirms these points is The 4 Hour Work Week. Tim even goes the next step of attempting to get rid of them completely which doesn’t seem like a bad way to go.

I think the key principle to take away here is simply analysing what the value of attending the meeting is. When people are prodded as to what they want out of a meeting, usually their objective can be achieved through more effective means and that’s what this questioning tactic is meant to tease out. Even if you do find that you need to attend the meeting you’ll know you won’t be wasting your time. Look out for a future blog on keeping the meeting on track! See you next time.

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