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