Death by Meeting

A few months ago, a group of us were entering another in the seemingly endless team meetings that make up our existence. An auditor, wanting to be excused from the meeting, made the comment, “Nothing he has to say is as important as my utilization rate.” The message was clear: I am not measured on how many meetings I attend; I am measured on how much work I accomplish.

Meetings are the bane of our existence. Our schedules are clogged with meetings. Our lunches are overrun by meetings. Our work is interrupted by meetings. We come in way too early to attend meetings. We stay way too late to wrap up meetings. We set and reschedule and cancel and lead and delay and forestall and squeeze in and push off and ignore and sleep through and eat during and listen in on and accidently disconnect from and dread and, every once in a while, actually get value from meetings.
So, if meetings are so detrimental, dispiriting, and abhorrent, why do we keep having them?
Here’s the nasty little secret. Meetings are what we do! Meetings are at the core of communication. And whether we are sharing, receiving, or giving information, meetings are often the best way for communication to be accomplished. In other words, there may be no better way to accomplish the various things we are trying to accomplish than through meetings.
So if we are to survive (and help others survive), we have no choice but to make those meetings better. However, I am not talking about stand-up meetings or 5-minute meetings or any of the other various tips and tricks you may have heard that are intended to make things move more quickly. I am talking about making sure each meeting has purpose and value. I am talking about making sure each meeting becomes the highlight of any participant’s day. I am talking about proving that we do, indeed, have something important to say in each and every meeting.
Confession time – I am getting much of this from comments and a PowerPoint presentation Tom Peter posted a few days ago (see "Meetings am Me!")  And I read this in the midst of a meeting week from hell. (Come to think of it, I could have read it any week and it would have been a meeting week from hell – can I get an Amen?)   But, with two or three different team meetings coming up (different meetings and different teams), I began looking at those meetings from the perspective Tom Peters provides. (Take a second and read through the presentations. I’m guessing that you will get more value by letting them speak to you before I do.  That being said, here is how it speaks to me.)
The concepts apply to all types of meetings, but I want to focus on those types of meetings we hold when we are the manager/boss/leader. (And before some of you tune out, I am a firm believer that internal auditors are in the unique situation where every person, even the most junior of auditors and clerks, is constantly given the opportunity to show leadership. But that’s a post for another day.)
No matter how hard we try to deny it, “meetings are what we do”. Which means that meetings become our number one leadership opportunity.  Which means (direct quote time)  “Every meeting that does not stir the imagination and curiosity of attendees and increase bonding and cooperation and engagement and sense of worth and motivate rapid action and enhance enthusiasm is a permanently lost opportunity.”
Folks, this ain’t hyperbole. As a leader, every time you are on stage (and take a page from Disney – every time you walk out of your office/cubicle/desk, every time you attend a meeting, every time you are face-to-fact or phone-to-phone or any contact-to-any contact with another human being, you are on stage) you are letting people know the kind of leader you are.
So, every meeting you hold is telling the story of the kind of leader you are. Which means that, unless you place no value on your personal leadership style, you cannot afford to hold a boring meeting. More strongly, you cannot afford to let a meeting go by where you do not exhibit the basic leadership truths in which you believe. You have to approach every meeting with this understanding; you have to prepare for every meeting with this understanding.  (Repeat this one with me a hundred million times – “I will prepare for the next meeting, I will prepare for the next meeting, I will prepare for the next meeting” – ad infinitum until it isn’t even a thought but a neurotic, Pavlovian, OCD-like compulsion to prepare in all the right ways.) 
Here’s the summary. Meetings are what we do. That makes meetings the number one way to show the kind of leader we are. And we have to approach and prepare for every meeting like it is the last thing people will remember about us.
And, ultimately, we have to prove that our meeting is just as important as utilization, milestones, or any other arbitrary measure established to measure success.

Posted on Jun 20, 2011 by Mike Jacka

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  1. What about if we don't meet often. For example my boss maybe too busy and I don't want to involve him in too much meeting. But only arrange for a meeting when the quartely audit reports are due.

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