Do you really need that meeting? How to make them count

Amanda Woodard


written on April 18, 2017

The Easter holidays are over and, if you are office based, the likelihood is that you will be drawn into a meeting pretty much as soon as you step through the door. What is this obsession with meetings: are even half of them necessary?

Nearly a quarter of employees think that there are too many face-to-face meetings that are a waste of time, according to a new Asia-Pacific Workplace 2020 study, conducted by Microsoft. It’s ironic that at a time when “collaboration” is a word on the lips of many HR strategists, that we should be collaborating so inefficiently.

Other feedback from the study is that 20 per cent of respondents felt company-wide meetings are impersonal and have the opposite of their intended effect, – they fail to communicate organisational goals or values.

Is it any wonder that Australians are spending less time in the office? Sure, flexibility is desirable – and 66 per cent consider themselves to be mobile workers, spending at least 20 per cent of their time working outside of the office – but being roped into attending meetings is an added incentive to stay away.

(Want the shutdown argument for establishing a flexibility program? Read our article.)

In many workplaces, anyone and everyone can schedule a meeting. Besides the regular departmental meetings on Mondays, there are the senior management meetings, the sales team meetings, the design meetings, the risk-management meetings, the “blue-sky thinking” meetings. It’s such a problem that some companies have begun to institute ‘no meeting days’, so things can actually get done.

Jason Fried, co-author of Office Not Required, says that when meetings become the first resort, the go-to tool to discuss, debate, and solve every problem – they no longer work.

“Meetings should be like salt – a spice sprinkled carefully to enhance a dish, not poured recklessly over every forkful. Too much salt destroys a dish. Too many meetings destroy morale and motivation.”

There’s no doubt that the number of meetings, their format and content are a product of company culture. Senior management need to be aware if meetings are proliferating in their organisation and set clear guidelines on when and where meetings are held, and how often, so that other staff know what is expected and follow suit.

This isn’t to say that they have no use. Despite the availability and immediacy of technology, interpersonal collaboration, the nuances of expression and our ability to persuade and negotiate, cannot be replicated in an email or text.

Engaging clients, solving problems and improving workflow can only be achieved by using face-to-face meetings says Dr James Chan, consultant at Asia Marketing and Management, who advises companies on how to do business in China.

I don’t believe that the internet and social media can replace the human touch and professional intimacy. All of my most important clients throughout the decades are within three hours by car from where I am,” says Chan.

Make meetings matter

Gillian Coutts, Australian Director of The Potential Project, says that research suggests that nearly half of our time at work our minds are wandering and, not surprisingly, when people are not fully present, we don’t get the best out of each other and time is wasted. She has some practical suggestions on how to prepare and use mindfulness techniques to improve productivity in meetings.

  1. Meeting set up: Consider do you really need to attend the meeting? If you are setting up the meeting, is it an operational, strategic, creative or leadership meeting – or even something else? Have you set the conditions for your meeting that are fit for purpose?
  2. Meeting preparation: When you are going to a formal meeting: take a short mental break before you enter the meeting – perhaps pausing to take three full breaths. Let go of what you are coming from and focus on what is coming up. If the culture allows it, the meeting could start like this for all participants.
  3. Be present in the meeting: The basic principle is to be fully present with the persons you are with, for as long as you are with them. Not doing emails under the table or tapping away on the laptop on unrelated matters. If all meeting participants are fully present with each other and the common agenda, it will save time and energy for all. At the same time, everyone will have a better experience of the meeting.


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