No matter how many cell phones you ban from meetings, or how many meetings you have while walking or standing or whatever you try to do to make them shorter, meetings just don’t seem to get better.
The reason, says Al Pittampalli, a meetings expert who advises organizations like NASA and IBM, is because meetings have become the “Kabuki dance of corporate politics,” as leaders and teams use them as a way to dodge work, decisions and personal accountability.
Meetings make workers busy, not productive, he says. They prevent those attending from getting real work done that can make a difference to customers and the bottom line. Meetings also prevent workers from doing meaningful work, such as mentoring or coming up with innovative ideas, he adds.
The bottom line: “Most meetings are a waste of time and people shouldn’t even be meeting in the first place,” he says.
A big part of the problem is that meetings are often about egos. They can be used to display power and status, which is why no one likes being left out of a meeting because they worry it’s a bad sign for their careers. At the same time, those attending a meeting often tell themselves they are being productive – or at least look productive to anyone passing by.
Further, departments like IT – with the heavy reliance on gathering and disseminating information – often are guilty of the most inefficient and unproductive meetings, says Pittampalli, author of “Read This Before Our Next Meeting: How We Can Get More Done.”
“Meetings in IT can often get bogged down in information and presenting that information. Those meetings are just dead while literally 75% of the time is spent presenting information to each other,” he says. “There are much better ways to share that information, such as project management software or even video.”
What IT must learn, along with everyone else, is that meetings should be used for collaboration and “talking about interesting and complex information,” he says.
That’s why he’s come up with the “Modern Meeting Standard” that establishes ground rules for where and when to call a meeting. The standard establishes that:
- Leaders make decisions, not meetings. “When an issue shows up on your desk, the first thing you must do is embrace this fact: You own it,” he says. If a decision needs to be made and isn’t a big deal, then the leader needs to make the decision and move on. If a decision is needed that will have some consequence, then the leader can seek input from others – but there is no reason to call a meeting. “A lot of people have anxiety when it comes to making a decision, and they use meetings as a hiding place. They think that if they call a meeting, then their problem now becomes the decision of everyone and they take comfort in mitigating the risk,” Pittampalli says. “They think that way they won’t get blamed if it goes wrong.”
- Meetings should be to resolve conflict or coordinate action. Before a meeting about a low consequence issue, leaders should let others (read more here)
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