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    It would appear that we are spending more and more time having meetings. Why is this? And is it necessary? Scott Snair in his book Stop the meeting, I want to get off! argues that in the USA today’s business managers spend between one and three quarters of their workday attending meetings.

    Here in Australia we have a similar situation. You only have to try to phone a manager of a medium to large company or organisation at any time of the day to be informed that he or she is busy attending some sort of meeting.

    Why do we have so many of them?

    More complex organisations, faster rates of change and people’s increased intolerance of authority have meant that traditional command and top-down management practices are no longer appropriate or adequate and the need to consult and involve staff has increased. Managers have generally reacted to these circumstances by reducing the traditional directives and implementation instructions issued within their organisations and greatly increased the number of meetings. In parallel with these developments, the emphasis in leadership style has swung markedly from command or directive to consultative and even collegial.

    Perhaps managers also have meetings, meetings, meetings because their egos are boosted as they are the key person present and have influence and authority over fellow attendees. Snare suggests that managers possess an inner belief that if everyone is around, all at once, and information and work guidance are being dispersed, then something actually is getting accomplished. But that is not necessarily so.

    The effect

    It appears that the pendulum might have swung too far and many managers conduct meetings for the reasons outlined above rather than from necessity. Meetings have become the managerial norm and their conduct is expected. Junior managers attend a meeting with their boss who says that they should ensure that the information gets down to all levels and so they hold a meeting and then in turn these people hold a meeting and so it goes on – the corporate culture demands it.

    It could also be argued that managers often hold meetings because they do not employ other management strategies and systems effectively. For example, there is a tendency not to delegate enough or even at all, either because managers don’t know how or they are afraid to do so. The manager who fears delegating is the first to call a meeting.

    Having too many meetings is detrimental to good business practice and often reflects weak leadership, and in particular poor time management. While involvement and coordination are essential, very little is actually implemented in a meeting. The amount of wasted time and lost opportunity in any organisation on any given workday due to meetings is staggering yet somehow accepted by management. Studies show that at least half of all meeting time is unproductive, if not downright counterproductive. And this problem is getting worse. It is ironic that despite most of us disliking meetings, we endure them.

    What to do?

    The answer lies in good leadership practice. Good leaders understand the value of achieving the vision, mission, goals, objectives and tasks with and through others. They understand that meetings of themselves rarely ever produce tangible outcomes and even in the team environment, individuals at the ‘coal face’ make most workplace decisions. They therefore realise the value of personal contact with individuals, providing vision and guidance, and developing and trusting them to get on with the job in hand.

    One-on-one communication rather than group discussions is the first step in getting to know and understand the people for whom leaders are responsible. It also helps them appreciate the capabilities and aspirations of the individual so that they can focus more clearly on what is needed for the tasks or projects that the manager must assign to individuals or their teams. It is all about leadership accountability and responsibility, and the building of trust. Some managers might assume that this approach reduces the flow of ideas and contributions from others, however, this is not so. A good leader will actively encourage such collective exchanges.

    Purge your workplace of the unnecessary committees or work meetings that now control your life by introducing alternatives such as one-on-one communication, delegating, and firm, hands-on leadership!

    If you or your staff need to know more contact us. We can show you alternatives and provide you with tools that will make delegation work. Attendance at one of our residential Leader Action programs will result in more effective leadership and management practices in your organisation – and fewer MEETINGS.

    Tony Wass & Peter McDougall March 2004