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Meetings, Bloody Meetings

Keith Hillier


“Meetings, bloody meetings!” 

Does this sound familiar to you?  Yes, those were the words of John Cleese in his 1976 British comedy training film. For those of you who are aware of this film, or have been around long enough to forget about it, you can view a 2 minute clip on YouTube.

While I know that everybody is busy attending meetings, you might find time to view it on your smart phones, between checking the weather forecast, texting with family members, checking the sports score, etc.

My experience of attending countless meetings – and yes, I am sometimes guilty of the above mentioned behavior – is that the issue raised by Mr. Cleese in 1976 is equally prevalent today. Some might say the issue has been exacerbated by use of smart phones and other personal computing devices. It is a rare phenomenon to look around a meeting room to find most participants actually paying attention, as opposed to passively listening while exercising their fingers. Yet, when the meeting is winding down, and the discussion moves to the topic of the next meeting on the subject, heads pop out of their laps.

I recall a number of years ago, participating as a panelist at a National Manager’s Forum.  One concern dealt with the issue of time management (or the challenge thereof) as managers complained about having to spend too much time in meetings. Meetings, no doubt, are important vehicles for communication, but, as I said to the group, “you do not have to agree to attend every meeting."  You have to answer the question “What value will I add or take away from the meeting?”

Many people believe that they have to attend every meeting that they are invited to. This is simply not good time management. I realize though, that meeting requests from the boss are a little more challenging to refuse!

In their personal life, people pick and choose from the invitations they receive. I do not think they feel compelled to accept every invitation.

And of course, the last minute drop everything meeting.  My frequent response, “Really, I am sorry, but that is not on my agenda for today."

 Of course, leaders have to take as much, or more, of the blame for the number of meetings and the conduct of those meetings.  A colleague once said to me “I go to meetings all day and do my real work from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.”.

Jennifer J. Deal, Senior Research Scientist at the Centre for Creative Leadership in Greensboro NC, in a recent article discusses the issue of time management and the feeling of constantly being behind and over worked (Centre for Creative Leadership).

Why does this happen?

Pick a reason: too much work, inefficient use of time, self-protective behavior that wastes people's time, organizational politics, etc.

What can you do about it?

Have you thought about people’s time as carefully as you do money?  When calculating a meeting do you calculate how much that meeting is costing in people time?  It might change the length and productivity of the meeting if the cost of that meeting is calculated.  There are a variety of online calculators you can use such as the one at Meeting King. Think about what the cost was of the meetings you called or attended in the last month.  Do you think meetings would take as long or be as frequent if the cost were shown as a line item in your budget?   Just a thought.

I conclude with the words of the philosopher, William Penn:

“Time is what we want most, but what we use the worst”.

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