Jeff Bezos ,the founder and CEO of Amazon states, your meetings should not be bigger than can be feed by two pizzas. For creative meeting Susan Cain in her book Quiet suggests small groups are best more Lennon and McCartney than the full orchestra. And if you want to keep people to the point then try Walking and Talking like Jed Bartlet in the West Wing. There are a lot of ideas on how to improve meetings but the only consensus is that they need improving.
As a senior manager of a national HA based in Birmingham I once drove down to Newquay for a meeting with a partner agency only to arrive in time to see the final handshakes as people prepared to leave. I had no choice but to get back in my car and drive home.
As an assistant director I attended an away day with the rest of the senior management team and our opposite numbers in the Heath Trust. We got to the midmorning break and I had not said a word or been asked my opinion and from the agenda just agree I couldn’t see myself making a contribution. I noted that the same was true for the head of HR and the head of finance. In my view this was a dialog between the two operational ADs chaired jointly by my boss and the chief executive of the hospital trust . I discretely asked if I could leave since I clearly had nothing to contribute to the agenda. My boss was very firm with me, they had all their senior team present so we were going to have all our senior team present.
Every other week we would hold a large team meeting, large because it involved the senior management team and the area managers plus the heads of policy, IT, and communication, some 18 people. It hadn’t started out as such a big group but people got added over time and it became clear membership confirmed status. The agenda was always too long for the time allocated so the meeting always over ran. The agenda was made up of reports written by managers and sponsored by a member of the meeting. In theory reports required a decision although many were for information. The real reason for submitting a report was to justify the existence of the author, their staff and their budget and in many cases a simple desire to get recognition for their work. Reports were submitted a couple of days advance of the meeting and those attending were expected to have read them and be prepared to discuss them. They hadn’t and they weren’t. Their were too many , they were too boring and not directly relevant to most people at the meeting. In any case the author of each report was expected to present it to the meeting and answer questions. So sitting on hard chairs outside the meeting room were a group of report authors waiting to be called. People had difficulty presenting their reports often practically reading the whole thing out or doing a power point presentation that simply turned their report into a very long list of bullet points whilst others said “You’ve read the report any questions?” Despite the meeting over running people were allowed to raise items under any other business, these were often contentious but presented as requiring little discuss, prolonging the meeting and then being defend to the next meeting.
You don’t need a management consultant to tell such meetings are a wast of managers time and yet these types of meetings in various forms persist. Whilst everyone would like to spend less time in meetings and for those meetings they do attend to be more productive it seems that this is an aspiration always just out of reach. You can make them smaller, you can make them shorter, you can structure them better, you can lose the irrelevant information, you can uninvited those who have nothing to contribute ,you can ban power points but you can never be totally free of ”Meetings ”
Blair Mcpherson former director, author and blogger,www.blairmcpherson.co.uk