Ill Effects of too many Meetings

Meetings get a bad rap, and deservedly so – most are disorganized and distracted. But they can be a critical tool for getting your team on the same page.” – Justin Rosenstein

We understand that a company can only run well only when everyone is pointed in the same direction and working towards common goals. To meet this end, there would be times when people need to come together to share views and discuss actions and strategies – these are what corporates call meetings. If meetings are managed well, as the quote suggests, they can prove highly effective in ensuring that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities and knows what needs to be done in order to meet individual, team and company goals.

There are still a number of companies who believe that the solution to everything is meetings. Most of the time, people who are called to these meetings see them as distractions from their ‘core jobs’ which would not get done unless they stay back late. This is a cause of irritation and stress and can easily snowball into bigger issues. Therefore, it is imperative that too many meetings are avoided and when they are required, they should have a set format, a structured agenda and strict timelines. In addition, only those people who would benefit or can contribute to the meetings should be invited and all arbitrary meetings should be avoided at all costs. Keep the number of meetings to a minimum and ensure that the ones that do take place are efficient, effective and time-bound. The fact is that meetings do eat into actual productive time and are a major cause for distracting people from their normal schedules.

Does your company have too many meetings? Have you considered the ill-effects of having a large number of meetings? So what are these ill-effects?

  • Too many meetings are a cause of irritation and frustration for the highly productive employees and also some top management. Meetings bring down productivity and cause resentment, in the minds of those who are called for these meetings, against the leaders or senior person calling the meetings. They see these meetings as an ignoring of their passion and desire to achieve more. When top performers get frustrated and they choose to look for employment elsewhere, your company is the losing party. Such ‘smart ones’ refuse to waste their time, skills and talents listening to some person or persons who sometimes don’t even know what they are talking about – these people want to be ‘out there’ making things happen and achieving new heights and are extremely impatient and intolerant of sitting around listening to people.
  • Companies must focus on building empowered teams, smart employees and smooth processes so that teams can make most of the decisions for themselves, without always needing senior leadership intervention. If a company believes that they cannot trust their teams to make intelligent decisions, then there is certainly some flaw in the way the company is being managed and such outward signs of distrust, will only serve to drive your competent staff to other companies.
  • Running an excessive number of meetings, makes your company appear incompetent and over time customers see a dip in service and product quality and would rather choose to do business with people who are at their desks working to improve and not continuously unavailable due to be being in one of the many meetings being held.
  • When there are too many meetings, it is a given that most of these would be unstructured, lacking an agenda and proper planning leading them to be unproductive and also leading to drop in the number of man-hours spent on the actual jobs. If there is no direction to a meeting, there would be no clear conclusion and each person attending would leave none the wiser and also would have got no work done.

Meetings can be useful if done correct. It is important to ensure that the meetings are conducted in an open and stress free manner and don’t always need to be attended by everyone in a given team. A few key members / or members in rotation can attend meetings and feed back to the team the points discussed and decisions taken. To cut down the number of meetings, ensure that the teams trust each other to make decisions within their group or at least trust that the others will make the right decision for all concerned.

As mentioned earlier, if there are recurring meetings, ensure that the duration for these meetings is always fixed and adhered to strictly. Since these meetings are pre-decided, people are able to make ‘room’ for them in their daily and weekly schedules but for these meetings to remain effective the timelines and agenda items must be stringently followed. It is important that meetings have a clearly defined goal and people know what they need to contribute to ensure that the meeting goals are met, making the meetings more effective. Some people tend to stretch meetings simply because there is a certain time allotted to them – it is a waste of time to do this and it is perfectly alright to end the meeting before ‘time’ if all the agenda items have been covered and the aim of the meeting has been met.

There are some people who believe that meeting can only be effective and be seen as useful when a very large number of people are invited to it and expect everyone to attend. This is a completely futile exercise. Getting two or three key members from each team normally suffices and in fact people tend to pay more attention and be more interactive in meetings with fewer people. It is also a common phenomenon that those employees who don’t want to do much work during the day, often volunteer to be part of meetings, which in most cases they are not even required for. It makes them appear important and busy while in reality they are not really doing anything. Managers must regularly take stock of such ‘defaulters’ and restrict the number of committees and meetings they seem to be part of.

In the words of Benjamin Franklin – time is money and since this precious resource is limited, the time spent on meetings should actually translate to a substantial ROI. If meetings do not withstand this criterion then you should know that they are not required and in fact are a complete waste of time. Each employee, that is required to attend some sort of meeting or another, must take time to think whether they would be contributing to the meeting, will the meetings help them achieve their job goals and whether the meeting being called for would be the best use of the time available at the office. It is alright to decline meetings that seem futile and done for the sake of a meeting.

Employees must discuss and get concurrence from their managers for not attending meetings to which they know they will not contribute. An open-minded culture and a general feeling of trust within the company will allow people to be more forthright about how they feel. With the advancements in technology a number of issues and points can be discussed and sorted out via the electronic medium – people can communicate their thoughts via email and even instant messaging and receive answers, without spending too much time. Technology now allows people to share huge documents via the electronic medium and these documents can be read when it is convenient and also without wasting time trudging on to a meeting room to discuss them. The required persons can make their comments and enlist their observations in a more structured manner and without attending the unnecessary gathering of people.

In order to keep meetings short, it would be good to consider stand up meetings. People soon get tired and the meeting would end sooner. Another way to keep meetings short is to avoid food and drinks being served. People tend to get comfortable and also the food items are a cause of distraction, thereby prolonging the meetings beyond a reasonable time.

Meetings are tools to focus on some key issues and come up with beneficial solutions for all. Keep them so.

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