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Are Meetings getting in the way of Real Work?

“I need to stop going to meetings so I can get some work done.” When I hear this I wonder what the heck they are doing in those meetings?

A meeting that is getting in the way of productivity, is a sure way to torture people. It immediately puts people out of congruence; “This meeting is stopping me from getting my work done, but have to go to this meeting.” It’s a recipe for frustration.

Why does this happen? Are companies designed to put you in one of Dante’s circles of hell? If the “road to hell is paved with good intentions” then yes, company meetings are structured for torture.

In order for work to get done beyond a single person, people need to meet. They may need to make decisions, solve problems, synchronize work, collaborate on new ideas. Lots of great things can happen in a meeting.

So why are meetings to unproductive? I’m going to put these in 2 categories:

  1. The meeting is a waste of time. Either the meeting doesn’t need to happen or you don’t need to be there.

  2. The meeting could be valuable if only it was. Real work can happen in meetings. Getting alignment, solving problems and collaborating on ideas are all valuable activities. When it gets off track, or key decision makers aren’t there or the issue remains unresolved, the meeting ceases to be valuable.

What do you do? You’re not running the meeting, what can you do?

Here are some things that have worked for me.

  • Don’t go. If you don’t think you need to be there, don’t go. Seriously don’t go. “Oh what will the neighbors think?!” Who cares. Maybe they just need you in case they have a question, tell them you’re available if they need you. Don’t sit in a meeting for an hour “in case” they need you. Don’t sit in an hour meeting so you can give a 5-min update. If you’re not sure whether you need to be there, ask for clarification on why you need to be there. Is it more important than your other work? If key decision makers aren’t there, leave the meeting. You know it’s going to require a follow-up meeting, anyway. You can go when the right people are there.

  • Play the Bystander role The “Bystander” role comments on the dynamic taking place. When the discussion is going in circles sometimes all it takes is someone pointing this out. “It seems like we are going in circles here. What is stopping us from making a decision?” Bystanding also works well when the group has lost sight of the goal. “How does this discussion tie back to our meeting goal?”

We’d love to hear from you. What have you tried?

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