Good Leaders Don’t Hold Useless Meetings

Summer is over. Classes are officially in session. While I generally love the fall, the weather, the energy and the clothes, I don’t love one thing about fall. The meetings.

There is something about going to meetings that are mandated, with no clear purpose other than to repeat information that could be circulated electronically. No decisions ever get made in these meetings. No progress or strategy is ever defined. The meeting is a rubber stamp of consultation. I’m not talking about meetings where various options are vigorously debated, and no conclusion is achieved. It’s often the case that in complex situation, people need to take some time to investigate and consider alternatives.

I have been in many organizations, and experienced many profoundly unproductive meetings, because the intent of the meeting is not clear, or the planners did not provide the right information to make a decision, or, because no one is clear about the problem, or the proposed decisions, or, even worse, why they are in the room.

Worse, you are trapped in a mind-numbing, time-wasting room, with a lot of discussion about nothing. Most of us do not have the freedom to vote with our feet, so we sit, fuming about the waste of time, through the meeting.

With absolutely no evidence (aside from Dilbert, well okay some evidence) I can personally proclaim that useless meetings are the number two productivity destroyer in the modern organization. (Only the useless make work project that sounds cool, but is actually not on strategy or mission swallows more resources).

So what can we do about useless meetings. If voting with your feet is not a viable alternative, I suggest asking rather pointed questions to the person who invites you to any meeting:

  • Why am I being invited to this meeting?
  • What outcomes to you expect from this meeting?
  • Why does this meeting matter?
  • What do you expect me to contribute to the meeting?
  • What commitment to you expect me to make to this project/strategy/process after the meeting?
  • What information to I need to know in order to effectively contribute to the meeting? Is this information available in advance of the meeting?

If the meeting organizer can’t answer these questions clearly, concisely, and in a way that suggests that you might get something done, you can gently suggest some changes. If that doesn’t work, you can always take a mental vacation at the meeting, hide out in the back of the room and bring some alternative work.

Smart leaders use their members’ time wisely and respectfully. Not only because it is a scarce resource, and white-collar productivity gains are rare, but because useless meetings lower morale and the sense of purpose so important to effective organizations. Smart leaders use meetings sparingly, carefully and with purpose. Are you?

2 replies »

  1. Perhaps the only thing worse than attending a useless meeting is no communication at all.
    No effort to share and then the ensuing blame when deadlines and important information is missed.

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