Meetings… A Necessary Evil?

I came across two statements in the last day about meetings. The first was from ThinkGeek and was on a poster showing many hands reaching into the center. The caption said: “Meetings: Because none of us is as dumb as all of us.” The second statement I heard on the radio this morning about a recent study done on meetings. Apparently, a significant number of managers said that meetings were a waste of time, and employees would be more productive if meetings were banned one day a week.

These two ideas are linked, but they say two different things.

Meetings have the potential to bring out ideas, but without background research, meetings can also entrench bad ideas. When entering a meeting, if the people have not prepared properly, the meeting will result in uneducated bad ideas that sound nice at the time. On the other hand, meetings in which everyone is fully prepared can provide a medium for a healthy sharing of ideas and getting input from multiple people. However, meetings where the decision has already been made, especially if only some of the people in the room are aware of that fact, are a complete waste of time and effort.

The other type of meeting is the status meeting, in which everyone in the room shares their progress. While it is important that people on a team be aware of what their team members are doing, this rarely can justify a 30 or 60 minute meeting. A more effective way of delivering the same information would be to have everyone on the team submit a short email with their status to one person, have that person join all the individual e-mails together, and e-mail that back out to the group. It might take the one person an hour to get all the e-mails together, but it will only take 10 minutes for each person to read it, saving up to 50 minutes per person who would have had to go to the team status meeting!

When done right, meetings don’t have to be evil. If they have a specific agenda, people are prepared in advance, and they are kept short, no more than 60 minutes, they have the potential to benefit everyone. Once that structure begins to break down, people begin to dread the meetings, and the benefit of getting the team together declines rapidly.