Boring meetings
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WORK SMARTER

Can we all agree to fewer meetings – with fewer people?

A new book argues that meetings are “often irrelevant, time-consuming and badly run”. So, can we just not go, asks Viv Groskop

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By Viv Groskop on

I’ll be honest. I’m a total meetings refusenik. In fact, one of the reasons I have not had a proper job for almost 17 years is that I cannot stand meetings. I don’t mean that I hate other people. I love talking to people face-to-face. I like working with people and getting things done. But that is not the same as a meeting. Even social meetings with too many people can be annoying. But work meetings are the worst kinds of meetings. Nothing gets decided, everyone talks in circles and you end up cancelling half your day because you were stuck in that pointless meeting discussing things that had no outcome. Meetings are where indecision meets procrastination. All the important stuff happens outside the meeting. We all know that.

Finally, in their book Kill Bad Meetings, Kevan and Alan Hall are telling it like it is. A father-and-son writing team, Kevan is CEO of Global Integration, a management consultancy. His son Alan is a key account manager at Nestle. They are at both ends of the workforce. The father is a wise old leader. The son is a millennial line manager. It’s interesting that neither generation thinks that meetings have much to offer. “Meetings are essential to any business,” they admit, “but they are often irrelevant, time-consuming and badly run. People spend an average of two days per week in meetings and half of that time is wasted.”

Two days a week! Half of that time! It’s way more than half that time. But I guess they don’t want to exaggerate. They’re just trying to be practical and start with baby steps. “How would you like to save a day a week by cutting out completely unnecessary work?” This, at least, sounds realistic. Rather than my Norma Desmond plan, which would be to say, “Sorry, darling, I don’t do meetings. Not unless it’s at Claridge’s.”

Talk to colleagues about who doesn’t need to be there – you’ll usually be surprised to find that everyone comes up with the same answer

One of their best tips is identifying who needs to be at the meeting. They estimate 20 per cent of meeting participants should not be there in the first place. They suggest setting targets – chart the number of people in your meetings and aim to reduce that number. Talk to colleagues about who doesn’t need to be there – you’ll usually be surprised to find that everyone comes up with the same answer. From one of their case studies: “When we were asked to identify one unnecessary person from our meeting, it was not difficult. Everyone, including the individual concerned, identified the same person. She was pleased she could get out of coming in future.” Let me be the unnecessary person, please!

Saying no to meetings is also key. Their advice? “Turn down at least two meeting invites in the next week where there is not a clear agenda or value in you attending.” Top reasons for saying no? No clear outcome specified. The wrong people will be there. You don’t care about the meeting. You could achieve the objective of the meeting in a phonecall or email.

This kind of refusenik behaviour could change the world. One of Kevan Hall’s clients with 80,000 people worldwide estimated the cost of unnecessary meeting attendance at $500m a year, plus $400m travel costs. I would be happy to take this money off their hands and tell them what they should do. No meetings necessary. I will send my bank details.

@VivGroskop

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