Friday, June 06, 2008


I hate meetings. Oh, G-d, do I hate them!

I know any number of people where I work, who spend a lot of time in meetings. Sometimes they are in meetings all day. Then they are so tired when they leave, and wonder why they're so tired when they didn't get any work done.

It's simple. They DIDN'T get any work done. The purpose of most meetings is not to do work, but to discuss what needs to be done, what is being done, or what has been done. Duh.

Years ago, the agency where I work was headed by a guy who hated meetings as much as I do. The story that got around, was that if the meeting lasted longer than twenty minutes, he would just get up and leave. Personally, I think any meeting that lasts longer than thirty minutes is probably a waste of time.

Once our office had a director who was a real hard-nosed son of a b@#$%. He would have these meetings that ran well over an hour, where he would say the same damn thing over and over again. His tirade would be followed by his two unofficial "assistants," who would also say the same damn thing over and over again. This went on for several years, until even the people for whom he worked discovered that this was basically all he was good for, at least around here. That was ten years ago. I haven't had to sit in a meeting that lasted longer than an hour ever since.

These days, when I go to a meeting, it's a working meeting. I mean, there's no protocol over who gets to talk and who has to listen. Everybody is on the level, and the quorum is small enough to keep it manageable. As a result, work gets done. In most situations, unfortunately, I think meetings exist to allow the boss to hear the sound of his own voice, and have his minions share in the experience.

Here's my advice for running a good meeting. First, decide how long it will last. If it's over an hour, make sure lunch or refreshments are served. Next, decide on the agenda. Then, stick to the agenda. If an item from "old business" takes longer than five minutes with no end in sight, have the principals involved convene a separate meeting and get back to you. Chances are, they'll know when to shut up next time. Same goes for "new business." Then, before it's over, make one more go-round the room to ensure everybody has anything else to add. By then they'll make sure it's short and to the point, because they know you'll cut 'em off at the knees.

According to Craig White of the Center for Participatory Change, running a meeting is not the same as participating in the discussion. Having the chair do most of the talking is an easy trap, but renders the meeting pointless (just like the ones I used to attend; see above).

One more word of advice. If the boss brings up an idea for a meeting, and you don't have to be there, try to get out of it. Our division was going to have a meeting about assigning days for teleworking. Because I'm in school and my hours on campus are sometimes during duty hours, I don't telework. So I asked to be excused from the meeting. How did I handle it?

"Hey, is my telework arrangement going to change as a result of this meeting?"

"Why, no, David, it's not."

"Good, I'm very happy with the current arrangement, so I won't have to be there."

"Why, now that you mention it, David, no you won't."

End of discussion.

Finally, be sure to end the meeting on time. If some guy tries to bring up a whole new subject near the end of the meeting that 1) will take forever, and 2) can wait for the next meeting... well, you know what to do. After all, there's at least one guy like that in every meeting.

To learn more about running effective meetings, even how to avoid them altogether, go to

1 comment:

Adrienne said...

I decided a long time ago that hell will be one long meeting:)

Next on my hit list is "committees". Soooo pointless.