Software

Meetings -- the good and the bad

Meetings are only a problem if they're not managed properly. Here are some of the good and bad aspects of meetings.

Meetings are only a problem if they're not managed properly. Here are some of the good and bad aspects of meetings.

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I would venture to say that most people hate meetings. I would also say that's because many meetings are unfocused and do not have a clear and effective leader to keep things moving along. Here is what I think the main benefits of meetings are, as well as the main drawbacks and how to fix them.

The good

I like weekly staff meetings. If you don't have some kind of regular face time with your fellow employees, it's easy to hide behind the phone and e-mail each other to get things done. That may be more convenient and, at face value, saves more time, but you lose something in the process. First of all, you open yourself and your co-workers up to possible misunerstandings. Unless you've spent time in a room around a conference table with someone, you really can't get a good read on their personality. And if you don't have a read on someone's personality, then you are more apt to take something they say in an e-mail the wrong way.

I used to work with a guy who was assigned to an office in another state. Time and time again, I would be offended at a tone I perceived in his e-mails. People who knew him personally would tell me "he doesn't mean it that way." It wasn't until I actually met him that I found out he was one of the nicest people in the world, just fond of brevity in e-mail, which made him come across as terse and irritable.

I also like meetings for hearing what other people are up to. We can get all caught up in what we're doing in our own jobs that it seems like others around us aren't so covered up. It's kind of reaffirming to hear that your co-workers are all pretty busy in their own responsibilities.

Sometimes in the course of a meeting, you can casually mention something you're looking into, and one of the other attendees will happen to have a resource for you. That can't happen when you're siloed in your office.

The bad

I"m not trying to be contrary here, but the very things that are good about meetings can be the things that are bad. Remember the personality thing I mentioned earlier? Well, if the personalities in the meeting are hard to deal with, then those meetings can be torture. The narcissists who use meetings merely to toot their own horn can ruin it for the rest of us. Those who use a meeting to bring up issues that are outside the focus of the meeting can be a drag.

And we all know how an issue can be over-thought by meeting attendees. You know what I mean -- everyone wants to chime in on all possible and theoretical permeations of situations that could arise if an action is taken. It's good to anticipate problems, but too many theoretical scenarios can paralyze and nothing is achieved.

So, how do you keep the bad from happening? Each meeting should have a strong leader. This person should be enabled with authority to keep the meeting on topic. This means interrupting any kind of meandering dialog. If someone starts to go into detail that is unnecessary for the scope of the meeting, the leader must interrupt and tactfully remind the speaker.

A meeting leader will also keep the venue pure. If you're there to talk about a migration project, he simply does not allow discussions of other projects. If the unrelated issues are important enough, you can make note and take the discussion "offline." That way, you don't waste the time of the attendees who don't care about the unrelated topics.

If discussion threatens to turn into a quagmire of what if's, rein things in. A meeting leader should allow for some speculation, but he or she should try to keep things in the here and now.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

8 comments
herlizness
herlizness

meetings are fine so long as there's actually some real reason to convene N people in a room .. too often it seems they're held because that's what the meeting caller DOES for a living can't disagree that "face time" is important but for a group effort it seems to me that should be happening spontaneously as needed, or as happens if a meeting is really a bull session, why don't we just call it one?

sc_wolfe
sc_wolfe

I found a rather amazing way to conduct a meeting and have the participants create the agenda and things happen by themselves that are the things that needed to happen the most for that group. It was based on the fact that most people at meetings and conferences found the real value was during the coffee breaks where people got to talk to people they needed to talk to about things that mattered most to them. I suggest checking out the "technology"... http://www.openspaceworld.org/

patclem
patclem

Patrick Lencioni's book Death by Meeting. A funny title to have on your desk and an excellent read. I'm the person that disagrees continuously. This book makes me the hero! (:

cbulla
cbulla

Talk about a great topic to open the new year with! I've been working hard at implementing the meetings in our group here as we had in other places I've worked. There lacks both *team* and communication with a lot of siloed projects that other members on the team of 5 don't know about. I have found the benefits of weekly meetings far more beneficial to approaching weekly events and projects than when in places with out them.

howard
howard

The only thing I don't agree with is the "spontaneous" meeting. People need to repsect each other's time. Just because now is good for you, does not mean it is good for me. Set a meeting time for a time good for everyone involved, and keep the meeting on topic (whatever the topic of the meeting is)

minmor
minmor

Just having an agenda (and following it) can reduce time spent in the meeting! If sent out ahead of time, it can reduce the number of people at the meeting as well.

Tom Carlisle
Tom Carlisle

Toni, Michael Doyle wrote a great book entitled How To make meetings Work. I recommend it to you and all your readers. The most important part is to have the meeting "scripted" before you go in - not just an agenda but what deliverables and goals you plan to accomplish from the meeting. Dr. Robert Briggs and Dr. G.J. de Vreede at the University of Nebraska at Omaha have also published several articles on the subject too. We use their concepts to successfully facilitate our meetings.

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