God Please No More Meetings

July 5, 2012

The majority of meetings are a waste of time for the majority of people in them, yet we call them mercilessly whenever we feel there is the slightest communication need. Meetings have no cost that can be directly measured, but a benefit that can: People sat in a meeting for a period of time. Really, as stated, that can only be a good thing — especially if it’s the right people. With this in mind, great care is taken in the selection and culling of meeting attendees. After all, without the right people, how can it have the right outcome? This is where the concept of the meeting breaks down, as “the right outcome” is rarely understood much less articulated to attendees.

“The meeting outcome” is almost a dirty phrase. Clearly, those who wish to know the desired outcome of a meeting before the meeting simply wish to avoid the meeting. Try this experiment: The next time you receive a meeting invite, reply with a polite email inquiring as to the desired outcome of the meeting. Take your time, and phrase it carefully so as not to offend. Try as you might, you can’t avoid the insinuation that the person calling the meeting did not give enough thought to the outcome. If the reply contains an agenda, consider yourself lucky, but avoid the temptation to remind the meeting organizer that an agenda does not outline a desired outcome.

If one were to focus on the desired outcome of a meeting, many meetings would be radically altered and/or canceled altogether. “What do you want to happen as a result of this meeting?” is not a complicated question steeped with emotion, but it is often greeted as such. When I meet with my accountant, I want to know how much I owe in taxes. For that he doesn’t even need a full email – a text message will do. When I meet with my auto mechanic, I want to know what is wrong with my car, and how much it will cost to fix it. This can be related over the phone in less than 10 minutes. When I hold a “design review” what do I want as a result? When I call a “team meeting” what is my objective? Perhaps if we start with what we want, and then afterwards consider if a meeting is necessary, we can save companies hundreds of wasted hours of productivity a week.

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I would like to point out that if we work together today, or have in the past, my opinions may or may not have been influenced by working with you. Most likely they have been, but I have to say that to avoid offending people. You're so vain. I bet you think this site is about you.