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  • Writer's pictureHelen Chapman

Stop: ‘going to meetings’

Ever heard this or said this:

“I’ve got back-to-back meetings” “I’m going to another meeting.” “I can’t, I’ve got a meeting.” “I’m sorry, he’s in a meeting.” “Let’s take this offline and have another meeting to discuss the thing we couldn’t discuss in this meeting.” “I’ve got so many meetings there’s no time to do my work.’

Of course you have, and you’re not alone.

If we thought there were too many meetings before the pandemic, I’m pretty certain there are even more now. Nowadays, we squeeze in extra online meetings because we’re not travelling to meetings – which, on reflection, was some of the only blessed downtime we had.

Encouraged recently by a number of online comments calling to #stopmeetings – which I read in full appreciation because at first glance the spirit of the message appears to be calling for something I wholeheartedly believe in – on reflection, I’m not so sure I agree.

It’s true that many are frustrated with the quality and quantity of meetings these days, and as a result, meetings ‘get the blame’. This is reinforced by any number of surveys that report too many, too boring, not productive meetings, and too many meetings spent planning other meetings. The accusations are a credible protest about time wasting, clogged-up diaries and little time to do the actual work.

But a meeting isn’t a thing all on its own. Meetings are alive. They’re alive with humans. And we humans are blaming meetings and ‘others’ for all the poor qualities. As an antidote, articles are written giving advice about how to have better meetings (we’ve written a few ourselves). They’re all quite practical and helpful in their way, but my deep sense is that the surveys and the articles are showing us the obvious but bringing us to the wrong conclusion.

To bring about true and lasting change, to unclog the system, to free up headspace, to focus planning and strengthen decision-making, we have to stop blaming meetings and ‘others’ and start looking into ourselves. To enquire about the ‘me’ in meetings and let it be a reminder that the only behaviour we can each change is our own. It’s with ‘me’ that we need to start.

Back in 2016, I wrote The Meeting Book to complement LID Publishing’s Concise Advice series. One of the chapters is called, ‘Stop Going To Meetings’. The intent of that chapter is not to #stopmeetings per se but to stop the meeting trance, the endless hamster wheel of having meetings for the sake of it. To stop the noise, stop long agenda lists, stop the routine, stop wasting time and money. Moreover, I wanted to encourage the reader to pause, to consider the tangible ‘why’ of their meetings and their attendance in them.

If you think about it, there are two big reasons why human beings are among the most successful species on planet Earth: our ability to socially interact and our ability to adapt. We’ve been meeting with each other through the ages. Purposeful meetings have helped guide us when we’ve most needed it: through wars, revolutions and disasters. And successful movements (some of them ‘underground’) of passionate, purposeful people have contributed to saving lives and even countries.

Each of us has such potential but I feel we’re not adapting quickly or smartly enough when it comes to working online and at a distance. Almost 18 months on from the pandemic hitting, many are still resisting the possibility that distanced, online business conversations can not only be done well but have the potential to go a step beyond what’s possible in an in-person meeting. Meanwhile, and here’s the irony, our love at distanced social interaction using social media is so prevalent and consuming now that it could be viewed as an overdone strength.

While meeting technology continues to be developed, we humans have more to do. In online and in-person meetings, we still persist in putting ourselves into rigid straightjackets, endless agendas, boring monologues, and tedious PowerPoint. We no longer converse well with each other but instead we talk at each other. Creativity is stifled and conversations go round in circles. And valuable human resources are wasted.

#stopmeetings as a literal message isn’t the answer and I’m sure not intended (even though I cheer the sentiment). However, the meeting routine is in dire need of a pattern interrupt. A recalibration. A reset and a new conscious awareness that begins by recognising that organisations succeed or fail one conversation at a time. It’s not time to #stopmeetings, it’s time to stop ‘going to meetings’ – the chain-meeting routine that has organisations bound and gagged. Instead, it’s time to start having the right conversations at the right time with the right people. It’s different. The mindset is different. The intent is different.

Really good meetings are where purposeful conversation happens between intentional people. Really good meetings are where people know why their participation and contribution matters. Really good meetings can last 10 mins or 10 days, they may have two people or 200. And they should be a valuable interaction of human minds that have an intentional purpose with a direct connection to the ultimate why for the team and business. If a meeting feels ‘really good’ but doesn’t connect too much, it’s probably just an enjoyable conversation. We need those enjoyable conversations too, but the trick is to know the difference.

Please don’t call to #stopmeetings – we humans can be at our best when we come together. The possibilities for creativity and for moving an organisation forward really are endless. Whether through a screen or physically. Even though we still have some distance to make up, it’s brilliant to see that the art of meeting well is now a recognised business skill. Whether you’re attending, leading or facilitating, when’s your next meeting? Have you prepared? Do you expect it to go well? Are you stepping into a waste of time? Are you preparing for conflict? Whatever frame you hold about that meeting – you’ll probably be right. The time is now for you to step towards a new possibility and explore new conversational skills with a new mindset.

There are several high quality organisations out there offering superb training to give you the knowledge and skill to transform your meetings and maximise potential. The impact on the bottom line will be tangible as your organisation achieves better decision-making, problem solving, planning, creativity, alignment and more. It’s also worth calling out that any investment you make with your choice of provider will likely result in less time in meetings too – which, for numerous human and business reasons, has got to be good.

I recommend you research the best fit provider for your organisation and consider TFP training along the way.

If you’re interested in continuing this conversation, please message me on LinkedIn. You can also listen to our Stop: 'going to meetings' podcast.


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