Death By Meeting


By Sara Harrup

It’s 2.30 pm. You are feeling a little after lunch slump. What you really feel like doing is settling into some work which doesn’t require too much brain power until your energy picks up again. What you actually have to do is go to a meeting. Eight people, one room, ugly topic. Your calendar says it’s scheduled for one hour but you already know it will drone on for much longer than that.

You brace yourself and with coffee in hand off you go. The solutions to the issue being discussed seem obvious to you but you cannot get a word in. When you finally get the opportunity to speak it is clear no one is listening. You sigh deeply to yourself, give up and hope the pain ends soon. Two hours after it started you head back to your desk, frustrated about the waste of time and the pain and suffering you just endured. Been there? We all have. Regularly in fact!

So why are meetings so painful and generally unhelpful? Here are my tips!

  1. People are more focused on talking than they are on listening. Whilst others are talking people are busy formulating the next point they want to make, so pay no real attention to the people speaking.
  2. People repeat themselves. They make the same point in two or three different ways.
  3. The loudest most assertive or aggressive people are the ones who hold the floor for the majority of the time. Quieter people are dismissed as adding no value.
  4. Way too much time is spent discussing the problem instead of focusing on solutions.
  5. Actions and responsibilities are not formalized.
  6. The chair of the meeting is ineffective.
  7. The issues brought to meetings to be discussed with a cast of thousands could often be dealt with by people simply making good decisions and having the autonomy to do so.
  8. People get offended if they are not invited to a meeting that they feel they should be involved in. As a result, every man and his dog gets invited.

My advice on how to create meetings which stop the groan factor and improve business productivity and performance are:

  1. If you can get the same outcome by managing the situation without a meeting, ditch the meeting.
  2. Invite decision makers to the meeting- keep the list of attendees as small as possible.
  3. Have a good chair that sticks to an agenda.
  4. One person presents the issue to be discussed. Each person in the room has one minute to ask any relevant questions regarding the issue. While that person is talking the other attendee’s only job is to listen without interruption.
  5. Once the details of the issue are clear, each person has two minutes, uninterrupted to put forward their views and solutions.
  6. The chair facilitates a list of action items and closes the meeting.

Depending on the list of issues to be discussed you might need to play with timeframes. The plan is to have a plan for the meeting. If you don’t, someone else will.

About Sara: Sara Harrup is a Cause & Effective Associate. She is a former not for profit CEO and has first-hand knowledge of the challenges and issues faced by organisations in the sector and the people who work in them. Sara brings this experience and insight to our Leadership Recruitment team.

About B-Cause

B-Cause is published by Cause and Effective. We help good causes find and attract effective leaders.

Thats our take on things. Over to you, please add to the discussion.

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