One way or another I attend an awful lot of meetings. More than most people probably but less some some unlucky souls. Some are interesting, some are simply dull and others are damn right painful. Very few are fun. In my opinion even less are genuinely useful. I used to see them as a necessary evil but more and more I wonder just how necessary most of them are (they are without doubt evil!).
The Guardian recently ran a very amusing and spot-on anti-meetings feature. I think it identified that this was a common problem and gave some all too familiar examples of an out of control meeting culture. They also gave a list of 8 things to do if you wanted to get the best out of your meetings. They all seem pretty sensible and doable though I think (3) Keep the numbers down doesn’t go anywhere near far enough – any meeting with more than 4 or 5 participants seems destined to fail to me. Simply too many personalities, opinions and differing knowledge-sets for anything useful to happen.
The other oft-quoted but rarely followed meeting guide is the Google style meetings as espoused by Marissa Mayer. Google take no prisoners with their meeting style and have a very focused, time based routine not surprisingly for such an engineering focused business. I do particularly like number (2)
Assign a note-taker. Mayer’s meetings tend to use multiple displays to project presentation slides, a live transcript of the meeting and a ticking stopwatch! Each element provide focus, and crucially a record, enabling non-attendees to stay informed.
We did try this at a meeting once (minus the clock) and I can see the benefit but it does rather require access to alot of projectors!
I also like one of the spin-offs from the Agile/Scrum movement which is the stand-up meeting. It is amazing how fast you get through the agenda if people aren’t sitting down and sipping coffee. It has to be said though that I don’t think simply signing up to an Agile methodology eliminates meetings – Scrum has its share of meetings and it takes a strong ‘Scrum Master’ to keep them on track.
As you can probably tell I haven’t got any answers myself. Since I left the short-lived job in Coventry for the education quango that will remain nameless I find I am more jaded than ever about meetings which seem to have no clear and pressing purpose. That place had the most insane meeting culture I’ve ever seen in action and it left me with an abiding feeling that to be a truly innovative organisation you would need to tackle that issue.
So does anyone have a method for getting the best out of meetings or is everyone just making do?