Why the human race never will achieve its full potential... Meetings.

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be: meetings.”

(Dave Barry, “Things That It Took Me 50 Years to Learn”)

Most Meetings in today’s corporate culture are the biggest waste of time ever. People got so used to meetings that they use them as a placeholder for an actual social life. As if their motto is: “If you can’t meet with friends arrange for a meeting at work”.

Don’t get me wrong – meetings are not evil, meetings in itself are not unnecessary; but the way we organize and manage meetings is just terrible.

Meetings are often too long, have no clear agenda, too many people are invited and the decision and action to be taken as the result of the meeting are not defined.

There are only two kinds of meetings you ever need to organize or attend:

First – hold a meeting to get a decision you cannot make on your own (for whatever reason).

If you don’t have a decision to make where you need the agreement of others do not call a meeting! It is as easy as that.

If you need a meeting for agreement or support from others make sure that only those people are invited, don’t accept delegation to non-decision makers from anyone you have invited. Ensure that before the meeting the goal of the meeting is clear; provide a fixed agenda and a suitable time slot. Very seldom is there the need for a meeting longer than 15 minutes. Don’t accept the 30 minute default time slot that Microsoft Outlook offers you – arrange for exactly the amount of time you think you need – if it is 12 minutes make an invitation for 12 minutes (by the way, short meetings will ensure that people focus, are on time and actually show up).

Second – hold a meeting to get information (e.g. a project status or simply a review meeting)

Again only invite people who actually can contribute to the topic in question. If you have to invite more than three people the meeting will lose focus – try to split up if possible (even if this creates additional meetings for you). Make sure you let everyone you invited give you their information in a focused manner. Do not ask for “death by PowerPoint” (30 presentation slides in 30 minutes will put everyone in the room to sleep, guaranteed) but rather encourage more lively ways of presenting the current status, situation, progress etc.

Even for bigger projects do not hold meetings longer than one hour – it is better to meet on a regular basis and keep each meeting as short and focused on specific topics as possible. Do not let everyone present all the progress he has ever made – just the things that actual changed since your last meeting (see also “Don’t tell your life story!”).

A meeting should never be a platform for your team members or others to sell themselves - do not encourage show-off behavior.

Start every meeting on time! Do not accept the “let’s wait 5 minutes rule” – that way you teach people that it is ok to be late to your meetings. Take 5 minutes after the meeting to prepare a quick email to all participants about the results and decisions taken – do not ask for corrections or amendments.

If for any reason a follow up meeting is necessary schedule it immediately with everyone there and make sure you have everyone’s agreement.

Although some people might say that for common courtesy the following behaviors are not acceptable, you should stick to them to encourage everyone to be more focused and productive at work:

  • If you are invited to meetings that are unfocused and are wasting your time speak up and make clear that you cannot accept this. Show that you are impatient.
  • Even if you are not the organizer of a meeting do not accept late beginnings – take over the role of the moderator and start the meeting (you already know the agenda and points to discuss from the invitation, if not do not attend!).