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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Bad Meetings Don't Kill Projects . . . They're Just There for the Wakes

     I ran nothing but lousy meetings before I got into project management, and quite a few after I should have known better.
     Meetings too often are where good ideas go to die, or get loaded down with impediments. That’s a shame, because good meetings provide value that is so essential to organizations.
     Human beings cannot collaborate without meetings, gatherings with a purpose. Meetings work best face to face. When that is not possible, there is some value in virtual gatherings such as teleconferencing and online sharing.
     Meetings do not work well when they are poorly planned and poorly managed, which is most of the time. Serious organizational meeting malfunction is more prevalent than it should be – more prevalent, in my experience, than good meetings are.
     Actually, while awful meetings are so obviously a waste of time, money and talent, they are more symptom than cause. As projects go awry, poor meeting management is always in the mix somewhere.

     When meetings are bad, it is because the organization’s communication is bad. And that points to poor management, because communication is the lifeblood of organizations. Communication, ideally, starts with the execution channel from the very top.  
     Good executives and senior managers assemble ideas, information, investments and personnel to pursue the goals they are responsible for. A constant flow of information is necessary to move all the parts in harmony. That’s what makes it all go
     Effective management puts in place the structures and practices to do that. Otherwise, communication won’t work. And it won’t work well if it isn’t constructed properly, monitored continuously and adjusted as necessary – which means often.
     Communication is the stuff of management. You don’t manage by just sitting in some office, still and silent, issuing memos to the elite. You manage by gathering information, coordinating decision making, giving direction, receiving reports . . . and doing the countless other things – all communication – that make the place run. It’s a people thing.

     Conducting meetings is a vital part of such work. I don’t think I’ve ever worked in or with a good organization that had bad meetings.
     Good managers know what they’re doing, why they’re meeting. Any particular meeting is convened, planned and conducted because it is the best way to accomplish a defined purpose. If a memo would have done it, or an announcement, that is the way the good manager would have communicated.
     Weak managers often call meetings to reassure themselves that they’re still the boss. Requiring busy people to drop everything and go sit in a meeting room might demonstrate authority, but not it’s not leadership.
     Almost as bad is devotion to a regular meeting schedule for nothing more than its own sake.
     If a meeting is not preceded a day or two earlier by an agenda of meaningful items, the meeting should not be held. If no worthwhile report is distributed immediately after a meeting, it was almost certainly a waste of time.

     When written reports, messages, announcements and proposals will do the job, good managers use them rather than disrupt useful work by calling meetings.
     If people don’t read the reports, or won’t respond as requested, maybe the things were poorly written. Maybe there is a problem that demands something other than one more lousy meeting.
     Perhaps two people should talk – in person, by phone, by email – and let everybody know how it came out. If a decision or a proposal raises questions, then certain people should get together and talk about it.
     A meeting is appropriate when particular people must be in the same place at the same time for a purpose that cannot be served any other way. Only those people should be there, and only as long as necessary.
     A good meeting boosts a healthy organization. It’s worth the time it takes to make it good.

     Don't Just Meet




  1. Excellent points, and perfectly timed. I'll be quoting from this...

    1. Thanks, Patrick. Let us all know what reaction you get. I've often found instant interest in discussion of cleaning up meeting practices, but there's always a bit of resistance. Every process seems to have advocates, even if it is a mind-numbing waste of time.