The best meetings are non-meetings!

I’m a fan of meetings. I know it’s unfashionable to say so, that it’s almost de rigeur to complain about meetings in the work place, that they suck up too much time, time that should be spent on ‘real work’.

But I’m a fan. Unashamed. The problem as I see it is not with meetings per se – after all, unless your ‘real work’ involves being alone, sitting undisturbed on your own, churning out work that needs nobody else’s involvement, then it is in meetings that most of us should be getting things done – the problem is with bad meetings. You know what I mean – meetings that are poorly structured, poorly chaired, with vague and non-allocated follow-up actions (if there are any actions at all). Of course these are a waste of time.

So far, so obvious. But there is another problem with meetings – even ‘good’ meetings, meetings that are the opposite of the above, meetings that can’t be avoided, that serve a genuine business need, whether it be problem-solving, strategy-making or just simple necessary dot-joining. Focussed, purposeful meetings, that is.

And there’s the issue. Focus. The good ‘F’ word!

What on earth! I hear you cry. Here’s the thing. It’s that very focus that makes even the best meetings less successful than they might be. Daniel Pink in ‘Drive’ hones in on how the very act of creating focus actually narrows our minds. Focus, a pressurized need to find a ‘solution’, actually lessens our ability to perform.

No, the best meetings really happen when people don’t know they are in a meeting. At the proverbial water cooler; over coffee; in the canteen. The smoker’s corner is a good place too. Everyone should visit the smokers’ corner, even if they don’t smoke. Find a reason. The most creative business ideas often emerge when people (paradoxically) aren’t trying.

In these situations, the mind isn’t on guard, isn’t striving too hard, is just able to let ideas wash through it, picking up on flotsam and jetsam it would otherwise miss. It’s the little tidbits that transform ideas, tidbits that may come from different parts of an organisation, from people with different points of view, who aren’t trying too hard, who but nonetheless end up make an outsized contribution.

So, for your meetings to be effective meetings, don’t hold meetings. Instead, ensure that there are communal spaces that people are encouraged to visit, to kick back and take a break in. Create a culture of coffee breaks and lunch (no more lunch al desco, for starters).

Let the body – and the mind – wander. The outcomes can be astounding.

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