We can count on seeing something fairly regularly in the popular business press about problems with meetings. After public speaking and death, meeting management must be one of the things that causes managers the most anxiety. We spend a lot of time in them, yet they continue to be a frustrating and challenging part of work-life. In a recent article in The New York Times, Reid Hastie, a professor in the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, writes that our inattention to the careful planning of meetings wastes everyone’s time. He says:
As a general rule, meetings make individuals perform below their capacity and skill levels…This doesn’t mean we should always avoid face-to-face meetings — but it is certain that every organization has too many meetings, and far too many poorly designed ones…The main reason we don’t make meetings more productive is that we don’t value our time properly. The people who call meetings and those who attend them are not thinking about time as their most valuable resource.
Hastie argues that somebody needs to take responsibility for clarifying the objectives of a meeting, structuring the meeting appropriately, and being accountable for results. I addressed similar issues in a previous blog post where I talked about the proliferation of teleconference meetings and how they are not always the best way to achieve intended goals.
Whether face-to-face or teleconference, there is help for managers who want more effective meetings. John Tropman, in his book Making Meetings Work: Achieving High Quality Group Decisions, offers very specific suggestions and tools for planning and conducting meetings based on his observations of “meeting masters.” He compares their meetings to conducting an orchestra:
Meeting masters saw their meeting as if they were orchestra performances. The hall had been prepared, the pieces selected, and some rehearsal accomplished. Everyone there was an expert, trying to do his or her best. The job of the chairperson was to facilitate, to help, to conduct the committee orchestra.