Roland Dürre
Tuesday February 21st, 2012

Entrepreneur’s Diary #72 – Unloved Meetings …

We live in the age of meetings. Most of them are unnecessary and just create frustration.

We spend far too much time in meetings. Mind you, this happens regardless of the fact that this is the era of telephone, email, internet, iPad and Kindle, and, last not least, ”social media”, also in enterprises. Shouldn’t we, therefore, be able to collaborate quite well without all those meetings? Well, it can be done!

But, of course, the public calendars (outlook/exchange) and a seemingly democratic company culture open up countless opportunities to fill even the last free time slot of your business friends (and enemies).

Consequently, we are now more into “meetings” than ever before, regardless of the fact that, due to networks in communication, they are less necessary than ever before. You have so many meetings that there is absolutely no way you can still enjoy them! All you do is suffer through the marathon. Well, it has to be done, doesn’t it? And mostly there is not really much you gain by them.

:-)So here are some reasons why some meetings are doomed to be a failure:

  • The meeting is arranged for formal reasons, as part of a legal obligation or part of a process.
    Basically, you do not need it. After all, its only purpose is controlling. Consequently, you come up with some, mostly questionable, reasoning why you personally have to do it. You actually meet and then you try to, perhaps, give it some purpose. Who wants to admit to oneself that he or she is wasting his or her time with nonsense? Not that there were not something much more sensible (or enjoyable) you could do at the same time. Well, that will have to wait or be cancelled.
    So: if a third party or “some anonymous agent” has forced you to arrange a meeting, then this is a perfect emotional requirement for its failure.
  • The meeting is a jour fixe in your calendar.
    It is hard to imagine that a meeting might be necessary on a daily, weekly, monthly or three-month basis. Perhaps the daily meeting in order to know where you stand in a process like SCRUM is an exception. Except that this is usually done standing up, so it will never take long. Because woe to those who sit down… Or else you just start your work if nothing important needs to be discussed, anyway.
    The normal “periodic” meetings are mostly board meetings. The very equidistance (Äquidistanz) will inevitably mean that some of these meetings are unnecessary. They are the ones you should cancel.
    On the other hand, with these periodic meetings there is also the danger that you sometimes cancel them even though they are necessary. In that case, you must invite the parties concerned to an “extraordinary” meeting.
    If, however, for example, you have four yearly meetings and would actually only need two, but on the other hand there is a high chance you will need an extraordinary one, then it is probably more efficient to call a situation meeting. And nobody is allowed to lament that this is not possible because all the parties concerned have a calendar that is too full (with meetings).  So what is the problem if there are only five persons attending a meeting, instead of seven? Especially in the internet age?
    
So: a periodical meeting, perhaps planned in advance for the entire year in regular intervals, is something questionable per se.
  • The planned time-table is precisely adhered to.
    Do you, for example, plan to eat your dinner between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.? And do you call it a success if it is finished at 10 p.m. on the dot?    
This criticism is related to the last point. It is hard to imagine that tasks to be discussed will always need the same amount of time. More often than not, you will invent “pseudo problems” in order to try and fill the time. Or else, true problems will not be discussed because there is no time left.
    Beware: if you manage to precisely end a meeting when it was supposed to end, then this is not an indicator that the quality of the meeting was high. On the contrary, maybe you should get sceptical about the results when that happens.
  • There is always the same agenda in a meeting.
    This is another good chance for you to ruin a periodical meeting over some time once and for all. It leads to boredom and routine. All you do suffer through a duty. The formal character dominates and the added value is lost. A pity that the time has been wasted.
    My advice: always have at least one special item on the agenda. But, please, make it one that is relevant und perhaps even interesting for those who meet.
  • It is always the same problem that is discussed in a meeting
    A problem has to be solved. Afterwards, you no longer talk about it. Or else, it cannot be solved. Then it will do no good at all to have it on the agenda again and again. If you do that thoroughly, there will certainly be few participants left who will not get fed up. Because there is no way some of the participants will not hate it.
    
If that is your practice, you will find every team member quit  inside!
  • Someone has to write the minutes with a to-do list for the next meetings.
    Well, that sounds nice, but it is not a good idea. Because the world changes. And it is basically a fact of life that working on “open issues” has nothing in common with the “open issues” of life. Especially if three months have gone by between the two meetings. Because what seems very important to us today will mostly seem relatively unimportant tomorrow. Among other things, this is because the human brain is so easy to manipulate.
    So – mistrust the obvious professionalism of great minutes and action items that sound wise as homework for the participants. Especially if we are talking someone has to fill paper and create numbers!

Here is some more information:

As you all know, I like talking about the old and the new world. In the “old world”, meetings were actually important. They probably worked well even in a strictly hierarchical and mechanical leader, management and enterprise culture. In those days, it was not possible to communicate quickly and be cross-linked – as is common today.

Now, however, times have changed. In the “new world” the opportunities of networking are countless. We have another concept of human nature, society and enterprises. The speed has increased drastically. Decisions have to be made in a flexible and time-critical way.

But meetings turn more and more into ghost conferences. They cost time and keep the people away from important tasks.

In other words:

I consider it absolutely necessary that humans have to meet “face-to-face” in order to exchange ideas, talk about future activities and assign tasks, both in projects and in real life. Meetings along the lines of old patterns, however, are something I consider contra-productive and sometimes even catastrophic. Because they create far too much frustration and will hinder positive momentum.

It is a tempting idea that problems might be solved rationally, well-tracked and with clear “action items”. But, unfortunately, that can only happen in an ideal world. Which is something you do not often get in real life, or maybe never …

RMD
(Translated by EG)

P.S.
Click here Drehscheibe for all the articles of my entrepreneur’s diary.

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